Mouse jigglers are a sign that WFH paranoia is still alive and well in the workplace

Experts say devices that trick bosses into thinking employees are working are a symptom of larger trust issues.
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· 4 min read

Does your WFH setup include a device that keeps your mouse moving even when you’re not at your desk? We didn’t think so, but that doesn’t mean some in the workforce aren’t trying to trick Teams and Slack—and nosy managers—into thinking they’re hard at work when they’re actually folding laundry or rewatching Succession.

Mouse jigglers are the latest worker response to the new and uncertain world of post-pandemic work, where some workers are anxious, some employers are paranoid, seemingly nobody’s happy, and increased workplace surveillance can be seriously flawed.

Jigglers can range from $3 to over $60 on Amazon, and while they make for splashy headlines and great fodder for TikTok content, people professionals who spoke with HR Brew about the topic say, if employees are using these tools, it’s a sign of a bigger workplace issue.

Find a better way to measure productivity. “There’s a feeling [that] presenteeism equates to trust, and it’s a very old-school managerial mentality…You don’t trust that I’m doing the right things or using my time in the right way, or that I’m present, or that I don’t have three other jobs, that I’m not screwing you over,” said Mark Stelzner, co-founder and leader at management and consulting firm IA.

“Focus on output versus input,” he said. “Input is presenteeism. Input is time. Input is my Slack channel shows that I’m green or my Team’s channel shows that I’m on and active. What’s the outcome?...If I have a full-time job and the outcome is to incent me to get as efficient and effective as possible, if I can do my job in four hours a day, why isn’t that celebrated?”

Madison Butler, DE&I and culture consultant and CPO at cannabis glassware company GRAV, told HR Brew that managers need to be focused on the outcomes and “actually have the conversations on KPIs, metrics, and day-to-day.”

Reconsider surveillance. “There’s a lot of monitoring, and there is a lot of information about employees’ work. Everything you do online, the employer knows,” said Josh Bersin, HR industry analyst and founder and CEO of human capital advisory firm the Josh Bersin Company. “That data is available. Nobody really looks at it very much, but they can if they decide to.”

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Bersin said workplace monitoring can actually have serious negative consequences including increased turnover and reduced trust and teamwork, “and then as soon as people game it, they take advantage of it.”

Worries about being present online can also have a negative impact on worker productivity, according to HR and management social media guru Jha’nee Carter.

“If you’re worried nonstop about that green light or green status, it’s not good. Your productivity starts to go down because that’s all you’re consumed with is status,” Carter said.

Trust and flexibility. People pros who spoke with HR Brew all pointed to trust as the critical issue at the center of workplace monitoring and jigglers.

“It’s just easy for leaders to be afraid of what their employees are not doing,” said Estelle Izuno, director of employee experience and talent acquisition at Actalent. “When you have relationships with them and…mutually-agreed upon goals that you can hold them accountable to from right when they start…there shouldn’t be those trust issues.”

Of course, there might occasionally be a “bad egg employee,” Izuno added, but managers must set clear expectations for employees and trust employees to meet them.

When employees fled the office for their homes in 2020, a more flexible approach offered employees the ability to fit their job into their life.

“What the pandemic gave us is the freedom and permission to run that 24-hour cycle, the best way we see fit for our personal life and our professional life,” Stelzner said.

HR can coach managers into having conversations with employees about what works best for them, especially if that Slack light has been out for too long.

“If you want to be a good manager, you actually have to be in tune with your teams, their needs, and what they’re doing day-to-day,” said Butler. “Them jiggling their mouse isn’t going to show you any of that.”—AD

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.