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Tyson Foods: How NOT to Use Time Tracking Technology

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There are right ways and wrong ways for companies to use time tracking technology. In this episode, Curt discusses the case of Tyson Foods and the lessons that can be learned.

I’m often frustrated with the way the media portrays corporations as evil. It’s a nice sound bite, the root of all evil is corporations, then there’s the other side where the root of all evil is government – we should have no government. The reality is that the best solution for where we’re going as a planet is probably some combination of nonprofit organizations plus government plus corporations – they’re all good at different things. There’s a way to bring them together successfully.

So that’s why it’s very frustrating for me when a corporation acts so badly that they tarnish the rest of them with the brush of evil. And I think that’s kind of what Tyson Foods has done with this Supreme Court case which is about how they’ve used time tracking technology, among other things, to really essentially steal time from employees. So they do things like, they don’t allow them to clock in until they’re at their workstation, but their workstation is a 45 minute walk from the parking lot. And they have to have dressed and put on their safety gear and all that sort of thing before they get there. If they were paying them an extra hour a day or two worth of time in order to do that, then maybe that makes sense if that was the basis of bargain when they were hired…there are some arguments, I can get that. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

They’re also doing something for me personally that’s much worse is that they’re painting time tracking technology as evil. It’s a powerful tool, you can use it to understand your profitability, you can use it to automate payroll, you can use it to make sure you’re not treating your employees in a class-based manner – in other words, you’re not treating some employees different from others based on their religion or the color of their skin or something. Because now you have actual records to go by which are, supposedly, objective.

So time tracking data is a force for good in the world. It helps us understand where we’re profitable and where we’re not, so we’re not wasting the lives of our employees on things that they shouldn’t be spending their time on. And it makes sure that we pay people accurately for that actual effort they put into things. Tyson was specifically doing the opposite of that where they had come up with estimates for how long it took to do things and they didn’t track people’s time and instead they just paid them based on how much they think it should have taken – and of course, they had an incentive to underestimate how long it took.

There’s a couple of lessons in that Supreme Court case, and if you go to read what the different justices, the kind of questions that they’re asking the lawyers, it’s always instructive. Whether you’re a fan of the Supreme Court justices or not, they may not agree with your political beliefs – some of them are very liberal, some are very conservative – but when you read what they say and the questions they ask and their opinions on things, you can’t deny that they’re very, very intelligent. So I’m always impressed with the Supreme Court anytime I read anything they’ve written and read anything that they’ve said.

And this Tyson case I think the lesson that most business owners should take away from that Tyson thing is don’t use time tracking, a powerful tool, for evil. Use it for good.