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How Corporate America is Fighting Mouse Jigglers and Other Work-Crushing Tools

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How Corporate America Is Fighting Mouse Jigglers, Other Work Faking Tools

Several American studies show that there is a demand for employee monitoring software.

Washington:

A US banking giant fired more than a dozen employees for “simulating keyboard activity,” highlighting the struggle within productivity-obsessed corporate America to tame a culture of copycat work with gadgets like mouse gestures.

Wells Fargo’s layoffs come as employers use sophisticated tools — colloquially called “tattleware” or “bossware” — on company-issued devices to monitor productivity in the era of hybrid work that took off in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

Some employees try to outsmart them with tools like mouse movers – which simulate cursor movement, keeping their devices from going into sleep mode and making them appear active when they’re actually taking a power nap or doing laundry.

The cat-and-mouse game — no pun intended — has fueled a broader debate in corporate America over whether screen time and keyboard clicking are effective metrics for measuring productivity amid a boom in remote work.

Well Fargo employees were fired last month following an investigation into allegations of “simulation of keyboard activity that gives the appearance of active work,” Bloomberg reported, citing the company’s disclosures to financial regulators.

Wells Fargo “holds employees to the highest standards and does not tolerate unethical behavior,” the company said in a statement, without elaborating.

‘Productivity theatre’

Multiple US studies show that demand for employee monitoring software – systems that track activity through desktop monitoring, keystroke tracking and even GPS location – has skyrocketed since the pandemic.

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), a Florida-based social media marketing company installed software on employees’ devices that took screenshots of their desktops every ten minutes.

Such oversight has given rise to what HR professionals call “productivity theater” – in which some employees try to project that they are busy while doing nothing constructive.

A series of “tutorials” on platforms like TikTok and YouTube even teach how to appear busy on computer screens, which usually go black after a few minutes of inactivity.

These include fake PowerPoint techniques for “when to take your afternoon nap.”

“Just click ‘slideshow’ and you’re good,” said Sho Dewan, an influencer who identifies himself as an “ex-recruiter who shares HR secrets,” said in a TikTok video that racked up millions of views.

The device remains “active” while the presentation is on, he said, flashing a thumbs up in front of a slide that reads: “Really important work meeting.”

Among the hundreds of comments below the video, one viewer joked: “At one point I taped a mouse to an oscillating fan – why couldn’t I have found (this) sooner?”

‘Serious adverse effect’

Another trick mentioned in the tutorials is opening a notes application and putting a lock on a keyboard letter. The employee therefore appears to be actively using tracking equipment, while the page is filled with the same letter row after row.

But the most popular trick seems to be the use of mouse jigglers, which are widely available on Amazon for just $11.

“Press the button when you get up from your desk and the cursor moves randomly across the screen – for hours if necessary!” reads a product review on Amazon.

But there remains a serious risk of being caught.

In a viral Reddit post titled “My manager caught me with a mouse slider,” an employee noted that the violation was the “last straw” after apologizing from several meetings citing “power outages” and “thunderstorms” .

He noted that he had installed a software-based jiggler, prompting some readers to use “undetectable” physical jiggler.

HR professionals warn of the dangers of surveilling employees and confusing keyboard activity with productivity.

One study cited by HBR suggested that secretly monitoring employees “can seriously backfire.”

“We found that monitored employees were significantly more likely to take unapproved breaks, ignore instructions, damage workplace property, steal office equipment, and purposefully work at a slow pace,” the HBR report said.

AJ Mizes, CEO of consultancy Human Reach, said the use of mouse jigglers demonstrated a “work culture driven by statistics rather than meaningful productivity and human connection”.

“There is a growing disturbing trend of excessive surveillance in corporate America,” Mizes told AFP.

“Rather than encouraging innovation and trust, this surveillance approach will only encourage employees to find additional ways to appear busy.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)