Corporate problem, corporate “solution”

My girlfriend has a work laptop.

She works for a big corporation, which installs an app on all employee laptops. This app is meant to help the company’s employees take breaks.

It’s a noble intention. How does it work?

Every so often, the app will suggest that you take a break. Maybe it offers you a posture tip or tells you to walk around a bit.

The app knows when you’re typing or moving the mouse. So if you do that when you’re supposed to take a break, you are marked as “not compliant” and the app will show you a frowny face when you next log in.

Of course, the compliance percentage could be sent to your manager as just another seemingly objective piece of data on your “performance”. It’s a typical corporate “solution” to a problem that the corporate environment itself creates.

Look, taking breaks is good. Most people do not take nearly enough breaks from their work. But when we take a break matters.

Most people’s work is already interrupted way too often. We get distracted by notifications, by meetings, and by bored coworkers—we don’t need an app to destroy our focus even further, even if the people who set up the app have good intentions.

Instead, we should take breaks when it makes sense to take a break. Perhaps after we complete a task or after we hit a milestone. Then we can go for a walk, take a nap, chat with some people, buy some groceries—as long as it takes our mind off of work and as long as we move our bodies.

A true solution would be to trust people to take a break when they need one. To not require people to be at the office from nine to five (or longer) every day. To measure output, not input.

But that would be way too risky in the corporate environment. It’s harder to trust people than to babysit them and it’s harder to measure output than input.

Then again, trusting people and measuring output also improves productivity, lowers stress, reduces waste, and rewards people for their contribution, rather than for vanity metrics.

Yours,

— Peter

## Image credit: Vincent Le Moign

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