When work went fully remote, employers worried about how they could ensure that employees were clocking their required hours. Meeting deadlines and producing work were evidence that employees were on task, but what about jobs that were less quantifiable, and longer-term projects that did not yield immediate results? What about bosses who just wanted to know “butts” remained in “seats”?

Technology to the rescue! Companies could detect their employees’ computer mouse movements with monitoring software and from that conclude that they were at their desks and on task.

Not so fast! Like in the iconic cartoon, Tom and Jerry, where the clever mouse routinely made a fool of Tom the cat, employees used technology to fool the measurers. As a recent Wall Street Journal article explains (cleverly titled, “The Jiggle Is Up”) employees purchased “mouse jigglers” to fake their desk work! Now, for a mere $19.99 (shipped free) they could take that mid-day run for groceries or a round of golf while they appeared to the watching “bot-Toms” to be busily working.

But wait! There’s more! Suspicious employers naturally suspected some funny business, and into this information breach came MORE TECHNOLOGY to detect technologically produced busy-work. Hence, the advent of programs to ferret out repetitive mouse movement or robotic-seeming key strokes (which apparently are not the sort of robotic movement that hits most of us at 2 pm).

Asked to respond to the seemingly pernicious employee behavior enabled by their technology, one mouse-jiggling vendor cited the pressure placed upon employees by workplace monitoring tools and, according to the WSJ article, explained, “Our objective with products like the mouse jiggler is to provide tools that help employees navigate these pressures,”

Got it!

What lessons are we to draw from this story?

One lesson is straight from the old Heisenberg Principle. The act of measuring changes the thing measured.

Less esoterically, perhaps, employers that micro-monitor their employees may well undermine their sense of professionalism, making them behave more like teenagers trying to evade their parents’ curfew with strategically placed pillows on their beds than grown-ups performing a job. Why behave like a responsible adult if your boss treats you like a child? Trust is a two-way street.

Or maybe the need to use monitoring software is evidence of bad hiring decisions and/or poorly developed job productivity standards. Perhaps more diligence in the hiring process can help weed out those rats. And a better understanding of what employees should be able to accomplish during their scheduled work hours – and holding them accountable to meeting those standards – could benefit the employer. Because your other option is a mouse trap.