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"Get your news weakly"SM 3 March 2008

Tracking Employee Productivity

As the economy stumbles, many companies are considering new and innovative ways to ensure that their employees remain productive. With the increased use of id badges, quite a few companies are experimenting with detailed records of entry and exit from the corporate offices. Checking door records allows managers to accurately determine exactly how much work is being done on any given day, providing an insight that they have had previously.

Despite the enthusiasm for such accurate reporting, merely accessing the door records of employees is not enough for the detail-oriented insurance industry. The insurance sector leads the way with the installation of badge readers in key "productivity choke points" throughout the company. "It is not just the front door that is a problem for productivity", says Insurance Industry Association (IIA) spokesperson Irma Pound-Phulish. According to the IIA, productivity is lost any time an employee needs to walk from the door to their desk, make copies, retrieve supplies, get coffee, have lunch, take smoke breaks, or go to the restroom. "To solve this creeping productivity problem requires data, so we have long advocated acquiring the most finite amount of data possible, so that we can mold the behavior of the member companies' employees", says Pound-Phulish.

Most members of the IIA seem to have taken the recommendation to heart, installing badge readers on all amenities, including cube walls, ash trays, the cafeteria, coffee machines, and restroom doors. At these companies, employees must use their badges to access every function. "We can track exactly how much time is spent on every activity and weed out those employees who are hard to control", says Eve L. Khat-Burt, HR Director at a major U.S. insurance company. "Employees really appreciate the structure it provides", says Khat-Burt.


Employees at Khat-Burt's company appear to agree. Those interviewed for this story spoke of the ease with which they were able to adjust to the new system. "I think it is fantastic that my expectations are so well laid out; this is really the best possible system I can imagine", said Sally Stepford, an IT analyst, who added, "And I love the little candies they put out for us now; I feel happier and more content when I have several during the day".

Not satisfied with the data available through such methods, another company has moved to RFID tags. "We put RFID tags in the badges, making it possible to track the employees at any point in the city, at any time, day or night", says Steve Pry, with Crimson Insurance. "At Crimson, we are not just worried about how our employees are spending their time, we want to know they are healthy, since unhealthy employees cost more money", adds Pry.

To reduce unnecessary expenditures on employees, Crimson has implemented "packet sniffing technology for the restroom internet", which allows the company to monitor the health of individual employees through the packets delivered through the network. "Since the restroom internet is just a series of tubes, we were able to monitor the data volume and packet contents associated with each employee", says Pry. According to Crimson, they have been able to proactively assist several employees with health problems that could potentially have cost Crimson thousands of dollars and minutes of lost time.

Analysts in other industries are watching the results of such innovations with great interest. "We hope to be able to achieve that kind of influence with our employees, but the mind control drugs still quite expensive", says Bill Wrench with the small tools manufacturer Build Our Machine & Die. Experts agree that small businesses and low-margin industries will not be able to realize the benefits of employee behavior modification techniques any time soon, but the future certainly has possibilities.

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