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Almost Like Homer Simpson: Corporate America Is Suffering From Fake Hard Work

Almost Like Homer Simpson: Corporate America Is Suffering From Fake Hard Work

Mouse movements, keyboard strokes, presentations – but the employee isn’t actually sitting at the computer, but taking a nap or hanging out the laundry. In the US, companies are increasingly grappling with the phenomenon of home office workers simulating busyness with creative technology solutions. It’s strikingly reminiscent of a particularly popular Simpsons episode, in which family man Homer switches to working from home and chaos erupts in his workplace.

It even cost some of their jobs. However, the alleged diligence is also a result of companies' increasing need to control mobile working hours.

Wells Fargo, a major bank known for laying off dozens of employees in May, was accused of “simulating keyboard activity that gives the impression of active work.” The bank said Wells Fargo “does not tolerate unethical behavior.”

Online stores and video platforms like TikTok and YouTube are full of hardware, software solutions and tips on how to simulate activity on your computer or other company-provided devices. This is usually aimed at preventing your computer from going to sleep, activating a screensaver or changing its status from “active” to “inactive” during conferences.

There is a “Mouse Jiggler”: a small device on which a mouse is placed. Then the computer mouse is moved at regular intervals. Also popular: open a typing program on the computer and fix any letter – line after line, then page after page is filled with “text” of the same letter. There are also software solutions that “move” the mouse or “press” keys at regular intervals.

Or: Start long presentations and then relax. “Just hit ‘start slideshow’ and you’re good to go,” says influencer Shaw Dewan in a TikTok video. He was in charge of recruiting employees and now he’s sharing his secrets.

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These videos sometimes get millions of views. One user wrote in the comments below the clip: “Why didn’t I find out about this sooner?” He himself once connected his computer mouse to a running fan.

Naturally, the risk of getting caught is high. In a Reddit post titled “My boss caught me with a mouse motor,” one employee recounted his bad luck. The fact that he got caught was the final straw after he had previously apologized several times in meetings that included “power outages” and “thunderstorms” and said goodbye without saying a word. Some users advised him to use the actual mouse motor instead of the software, as it was less easy to detect.

Essentially, employers need to take a look at themselves, because according to several US studies, they have significantly increased controls on their employees when working from home and mobile. For example, the demand for desktop monitoring, keystroke tracking, and even employee GPS tracking software has increased dramatically since the pandemic. According to information from the Harvard Business Review, a company in Florida installed software on its employees’ computers that took a screenshot every ten minutes.

According to HR professionals, the monitoring has created a veritable “productivity theater” in some companies, where employees pretend to be productive. The cat-and-mouse game also raises the question of how useful mouse and keyboard monitoring is for measuring employee productivity and effectiveness.

Last but not least, the whole thing can backfire: The Harvard Business Review found in a survey that employees under surveillance were particularly likely to take unauthorized breaks and ignore instructions. They were also more likely to damage company property, steal office supplies, and “work slowly on purpose,” the report said.

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As a result, A.G. Mises, president of HumanReach, a consulting firm, complained of a work culture that is more about quantity than “human relationships and real productivity.” He said the trend toward hyper-surveillance in the U.S. economy was alarming. “Instead of encouraging innovation and trust, this will only encourage employees to find more ways to appear busy.”