I got in trouble for using a mouse jiggler … despite my excellent work — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

Trying to figure out if I’m totally off-base here. My position was approved to work from home, along with a lot of other positions, last year.

I am a high performer on my team. I have moved up in the company over the seven years that I’ve been there and have always gotten excellent performance reviews and have done a lot of process improvement.

Recently, our IT department implemented some monitoring that identified which employees might be using mouse movers. I’ve used one since I was sent home at the start of the pandemic to keep my computer from going to sleep and to, yes, occasionally take a longer break than usual. I was called in for a discussion with my manager and supervisor; I explained that I used one, and I got a written warning in my file — my first ever disciplinary action. I was let know in many different ways that I was lucky to not be terminated for “defrauding the company” and “time theft.”

I understand their point, generally. I am, however, a salaried employee and no supervisor or manager of mine has ever, ever expressed any concern about my work — not about its completeness or its pace or meeting deadlines. I have led our team in process improvement and overhauling a lot of outdated systems and practices. I’ve identified policy gaps and have written policies and procedures without being directed to.

This situation has completely demoralized me. I’m used to being treated like an adult and a professional with a handle on their time and projects, and it seems like my company would be okay with a mindless drone as long as they sit at their desk at home for exactly eight hours each day. I had planned on staying with this company longer, but am feeling ready to throw in the towel if they think this is a useful method of managing and monitoring employees. Am I way off-base?

They shouldn’t be tracking down mouse movers in the first place.

If they’re concerned about productivity … they should look at people’s productivity.

There are a bunch of problems with what they’re doing:

* They’re creating problems where there were none — they were happy with your work but now, because of this, you’re being threatened with being fired? That makes no sense.

* They’re signaling a lack of trust in employees, which means employees will in turn become less trusting of them. They’re creating an adversarial culture.

* They’re sending the wrong message about what’s important. Apparently the most important thing is not your work results.

* If the only way a manager knows how to judge a person’s work is by looking at how often their mouse is active — rather than assessing their output and results — that’s a manager who doesn’t know how to do their job. In what other ways is your boss going to fail at managing you and your coworkers?

You’re not wrong to be demoralized.

To be clear, if you’re doing something deliberately designed to deceive your company, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re unhappy when they find out about it. That part is predictable. But their reaction is over-the-top. (And really, if they discover a highly productive employee is using a mouse jiggler, they should want to understand why, not just chastise the person. The fact that you were using one says that you already sensed your manager might judge you on the wrong metrics. They should want to know how things ended up there.)

I’m curious what your relationship is like with your manager aside from this. Are they the type of person — and do you have the type of relationship — where you could say, “Look, I’m really demoralized by this. I know a mouse mover wasn’t the way to handle this, but your feedback and my performance evaluations say I’m a high performer, you’ve never expressed a concern about my work, and I’ve led our team in X and Y. I’m having trouble understanding why the focus isn’t work output.” If what you know of your manager says this conversation could be constructive, have it.

Otherwise, though, I don’t think it’s wildly off-base to conclude you don’t like what this says about how your company operates. Again, to be clear, it makes sense that they’re not thrilled you were deliberately trying to deceive them. But I question why they were tracking this in the first place, and their handling of it reveals something you’re right to take issue with.

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