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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Leading People. Leading Organizations

I'm a little bit tired and cranky. (Although not as cranky as Mr. Crabby pants who got 5 needles jabbed into his little thighs today. Sorry--just a bit of mommy blogging here.) So, when I read this I wanted to grab some HR VPs and bang their little heads together:
During the past year, several companies, including AT&T Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp., have been hit with lawsuits in which employees claimed that they were not paid for the 15- to 30-minute task of booting their computers at the start of each day and logging out at the end.

I'll leave the legalities to the lawyers (although for the record, I would never in a million years support such a thing and I believe they will lose the case). Let's talk about the people. Remember them? We're supposed to lead them. This is supposed to cause HR to lead organizations.

Apparently, we were leading them to self destruction. (Where are we and why are we in this handbasket? we might ask ourselves.) Sure, employees aren't "working" while their computers are booting up. They may even be, gasp! talking to their co-workers or drinking coffee. But, they are in the office. They can't be somewhere else. They have to be in the building. Therefore, they are at work and should be paid as such.

How do you even monitor such a thing? What if I come in, turn my computer on and get up to get a cup of coffee (which I wouldn't do because I don't drink coffee), but right then my phone rings. I answer it and it's my boss and I have a 30 minute discussion with him about work stuff. By this time, my computer is all booted up. Then I go get coffee (or rather water, which is what I drink at work). Do I have to clock out? What if I'm just going to the kitchen/cafeteria/water cooler and back? What if I run into Bob from Accounting in the kitchen and we discuss business stuff? Aargh! How would you even administer this?

Oh, I know, it's probably call center people, so everything is clocked on your computer. Still. If I'm required to be in the building, I should be getting paid.

But, let's say, for argument's sake, that AT&T et al are legally right. Computer booting time can be unpaid. Just how much do you hate your people? Do you want them to leave? Do you want to drain the lifeblood out of them? Do you not understand that your best employees will find new jobs and that as a result, the quality of your workforce will gradually decline?

United Healthcare received the lowest rating from hospital executives. This does not surprise me. You cannot run a good business without good employees. You cannot get and keep good employees without good policies. If HR is encouraging this type of policy (please let it be Finance who overrode the HR people on this, please?) then they should be ashamed of themselves.

Trying to save a few bucks will result in you destroying your company. Your people are your company. Stop being stingy.

Gah. Now I'm even more fired up and cranky. I'm going to bed.

25 comments:

Rhiannon said...

This reminds me of a job I had in a call center. They would complain about their employee turn-over, when they had just started not paying up to go to the bathroom, even if it was just a two minute break. I don't know why that would create problems with employee retention.

Lisa said...

I can only say, "Silly Humans." Hope you had a great night rest.

Greg said...

Do these companies WANT their employees to unionize????

I am at a loss how an employee can be obligated to be on company ground, doing company business (booting computer) and not be paid at the same time. I guess stop shutting down your computer when you go home!

Lita said...

(Speaking as a lawyer)

HOW STUPID CAN PEOPLE BE? Or more appropriately, how dumb can these HR VPs at AT&T, etc. be? Haven't they taken a single SRHM course on pay practices?

The Supreme Court rules in IBP, Inv. v. Alverez, in 2005, that “[A]ny activity that is ‘integral and indispensable’ to a ‘principal activity’ is itself a ‘principal activity’ under § 4(a) of the Portal-to-Portal Act. Moreover, during a continuous workday, any walking time that occurs after the beginning of the employee’s first principal activity and before the end of the employee’s last principal activity is … covered by the FLSA.”

Even if it's just a matter of a few minutes (de minimus time), the employer must compensate the employee. There was another recent case, involving butchers taking time at the start of the day to sharpen their knives (I can't locate the cite), which became a class action that cost the defendents millions in back pay and fines - just because the employer didn't want to pay for the five minutes it took for the workers to prepare their tools.

Starting up and shutting down computers is the very same thing - and these employers are going to get their heads handed to them. And so they should.

jaded hr rep said...

This may be one of the most retarded HR policies I've ever heard of. Makes me feel good about how I'm doing my job though, so thanks for the pick me up.

I. Barry Goldberg said...

There is something so myopic about this that it would be funny if it were not so painful. No one in the manufacturing business would purposefully not lubricate their equipment to save a few bucks.

This is what happens when a culture of efficiency gets off the leash and no one is asking questions about the impact on the larger system.

Anonymous said...

Well - let's look at the whole story. In most large organizations the "time keeper" function is on a computer (3,000 + here and ours is). So our employees come in and turn on their computer and log in. While most systems pay on a 7 min. system ...so if you clock in at any time after 8:00 - 8:07 ...you get paid for that time. If for some reason your computers take longer then a couple of minutes to log on or out ...then you may have a problem.

What gets me are the hundred or so employees who clock out a few minutes past the hour and rack up overtime. So I think it works both ways. Would love to see the details of this.

Maybe we can get the unions to start paying employees when they park their car. It takes me a good 10 minutes to walk from my parking garage to the hospital! They owe me! (jk)

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why it's necessary to shut down a computer every single night!

Anonymous said...

About parking cars....

I once worked at a company where I was required to park off-site and take the company shuttle, which they ran to get to the site at the convenient times of 15 minutes before the hour and 15 minutes after the hour. I'm pretty sure this was an intentional choice of times since all the shuttle did was go between the lot and the site all day.

I finally got sick of it and started walking to work from the off-site lot (along a road with ditches instead of sidewalks) when I figured out I could start walking 5 to 10 minutes later than I could catch the shuttle and still make it by 8:00.

I hate it when companies do these little petty things to get a few extra minutes out of people. I'm pretty sure me being grumpy will cost you more productivity than you gain by me starting a few minutes early or staying a few minutes late.

Anonymous said...

I have to know...WHAT KIND OF COMPUTER TAKES 30 MINUTES TO BOOT?????

Wally Bock said...

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2008/11/19/111908-a-midweek-look-at-the-business-blogs.aspx

I commented: Too many companies believe in the myth that you can have people productive 100 percent of the time they're at work. If you think that way, it leads to stupid decisions. In this post, the Evil HR Lady tries to help you return to reality.

Wally Bock

Anonymous said...

I have a friend that works in a call center and is pregnant and she is prone to UTIs. She had to get a note from her dr to be able to go to the bathroom when she needed to. OMG.

Nick said...

I guess for hourly employees there is always the Windows Sleep function that turns a computer on and off within 20 seconds. But it's still puzzling that 1/ companies are so stingy and 2/ some people have computers that take 15-30 minutes to boot up. Even the slowest PC I can think of can accomplish this under 5 minutes (and that's already pushing the limits of old and slow).

kat said...

I've worked in three different call centers (call me a freak, I like 'em most of the time), and unfortunately, none of this is surprising to me.

Call center A had a computer-based phone system, and you had to be completely logged in, all programs open, ready to take a call at your start time. It took about 10 minutes to boot the computer and log in to everything, but paid time started when you logged into the phone system. Logging into the phone system was what you wanted to do last, because it would otherwise mess with your "idle" time. If you logged into the phone system even one minute past your start time, it was considered an unexcused tardy and subject to disciplinary action (of course, up to and including termination) - and yes, I saw some of our best folks escorted out over this. And of course, weather was never a valid excuse. I lived an hour away and logged in 9 minutes late one day due to snow. As she wrote me up, the HR rep told me I should have left the house earlier. I'd left 2 hours before my shift started. I would have called in, but that would have been unexcused as well. Had I known I was going to get there 9 minutes late and written up anyway, I would have just saved the stress of 2 hours of driving in Wisconsin snow and stayed home. That same HR rep thought nothing of actually saying the strangest things to us while writing us up, like "I don't know what I'd do if I had to meet the same standards as you - I would have been fired a long time ago."

When I worked for Call Center B, I had to bring a note from my doctor when I started taking a diuretic because of my more-frequent bathroom trips. Also, the call center was located in a town that had railroad tracks running through it. Trains over a mile long were not infrequent occurrences and would sometimes stop at the most inconvenient times. I'd left for work 15 minutes early one day and was the first car stopped when the gates came down. The train didn't move for over 20 minutes. A quarter of the call center was late that day, and we were all written up.

Call center C, where I am now, is much more lenient and understanding. The phones don't even open until 25 minutes after my start time, and our time-reporting software has the 7-minute cushion. They also offer make-up time for weather- and traffic-related tardiness, doctor appointments, etc.

Can you tell which call center is part of a union?

Marsha Keeffer said...

Interestingly, most of these are companies with bad reputations. Nothing like shooting yourself in the foot to gain more negative publicity. This has to have a bad effect on people throughout their organizations - as well as on their ability to recruit new employees.

People run companies and they do it better when they're respected. Maybe some of these firms need fines to remind them of that.

Anonymous said...

To the other anonymous... is it "necessary"? Maybe not, but you'd be surprised how fast the electricity usage builds up if everybody's leaving their machines on.

Anyway.... I'm in the IT racket. If I didn't get paid for time I was waiting for computers to boot up (install the device driver... reboot... install the Windows updates... reboot... install antivirus... reboot......) I'd probably be living in my parents' basement. (To be fair, Windows Vista & XP are much better about this than older versions.)

Lexy said...

Well my work computer has to sync up with a million programs, databases etc in the morning and it's not unheard of for it to take more than 20 minutes if our server is overloaded. When I was non-exempt at this company (I am now exempt) I would include a note in my clock-in saying "arrived at 8:00" if I had to wait for my computer to boot up or if somebody caught me before I got to my desk, or other such interuptions.

But we're a small company and not as "OMG YOU HAVE TO BE AT YOUR DESK OR YOU WILL BE FIRED" as call centers. This case is ridiculous.

Lexy said...

Oh also... Anonymous 11/19 2:52, our company requires us to shut down every night for energy savings.

Dan McCarthy said...

This doesn’t shock me. I spent 5 years working in a call center for a public utility. It was a sweat shop, white collar hell. And I’ll tell you, for every stupid management practice like this, resourceful employees will find three ways to take revenge.

Dave Ferguson said...

Call centers in particular are essentially white collar assembly lines. Any organization that regularly tracks your bathroom breaks (as opposed to managing by exception when someone appears to take too many) is begging for malicious compliance on the part of the serfs... I mean, valuable human assets.

One cure for this organizational fatheadedness: any supervisor/manager whose salary is more than 150% of the call-center-serf wage must comply with the same policies. This probably misses the first-line call center folks, who are lucky to make 25% more than the digital galley slaves. But the 150% limit does include the AVP of Things Starting with the Letter J, who gets tracked on his potty time; gets his phone calls timed; has a timer going on his lunch hour.

Anonymous said...

I know this post hasn't gotten any heat for about a month now, but I just had to comment...

Up until recently, I worked as tech support for a small company. When I accepted the position, the HR rep and my future boss proudly described how laid-back the office culture was. After a while, they warned me that I had been away from my desk too much. I agreed to shape up, and did so. They also requested that I keep logs of every time I left my desk (even for bathroom & water breaks). Later, when I was eventually let go, they used those logs as evidence against me. They even intimated that I misrepresented the times on those logs. And yes, they even counted computer boot-up time against me.

Anonymous said...

These call centers need to be more apt to making their work force more ""relaxed and calm " than walking a tight rope for 8 HRS"

Anonymous said...

These call centers need to be more apt to making their work force more ""relaxed and calm " than walking a tight rope for 8 HRS"

Anonymous said...

These call centers need to be more apt to making their work force more ""relaxed and calm " than walking a tight rope for 8 HRS"

Anonymous said...

These call centers need to be more apt to making their work force more ""relaxed and calm " than walking a tight rope for 8 HRS"