Professionals have a love-hate relationship with reports. On the one hand, we consider it a chore at best and a bothersome waste of time at worst. On the other hand, the nature of work means we greatly appreciate clear proof of output we expect coworkers to provide and, in turn, output we did our best to provide them.

The thing is, our opinion of reports is subjective while the benefits are objective. And the objective pros outweigh the subjective cons, at least when considering what’s mutually advantageous to us and to our employer.

Properly documenting results and output is always a good thing – that much is obvious. It protects workers from having their contributions invalidated, and it provides leaders reassurance that their trust in their team is well placed. And this dynamic leads to another benefit that isn’t immediately obvious, an advantage that only shows itself and pays off in the long run.

Reporting, if done well, can help phase out the extreme forms of clock-watcher leadership that have been prevalent up to the early 21st century.

What is clock-watcher leadership?

If clock-watcher employees obsess over every minute they stay at the workplace after work hours, clock-watcher leaders fixate on being aware of what their team is doing every minute of their shift. That’s because they believe that their team members are only actually working when being watched.

As a result, clock-watcher leaders excel at and pour a lot of effort into monitoring their team from punch in to punch out. They are able to do this whether team members are working on site or from home, usually through traditional supervision and micromanagement as well as the use of remote screen monitoring technology installed in devices used outside the designated workplace.

Have I seen clock-watcher leadership in action?

If this sounds familiar to you, it should! You may have first-hand experience of this kind of leadership, or heard similar horror stories from your peers and connections about their experiences. Clock-watcher leaders exist in all kinds of organizations even to this day, especially since the older generations that gave birth to and fostered this leadership style are still well within working age.

That doesn’t mean clock-watcher leaders don’t exist among millennials or Gen Z, so be on the lookout no matter how old or young your leader is.

Why is clock-watcher leadership a thing?

There are a number of possible reasons that leaders use this leadership style. While some of them look for an easy way to demonstrate that they’re “managing” their team, others just do it for the power trip.

Alternatively, and in a more understandable light, they could be coping with previous experiences where team members repeatedly failed to live up to the trust that they gave. Or maybe they experience the same from those with higher authority in the organization, and they have no other outlet for the pressure they feel.

Whatever their reasons, though, clock-watcher leadership is not the best answer. This approach undermines expectations of trust and professionalism between leaders and team members, and can become deeply and widely embedded within an organization if not addressed properly.

How can reports help phase out clock-watcher leadership?

As the cliché goes, trust is a two-way street. Leaders must trust their team members, while team members must prove that their leader is right to trust them. And the only basis that leaders have to believe that team members are doing assigned work is proper documentation of results and output.

The solution should be easy to envision from there: use reporting, a core aspect of work performance that has caused a polarized attitude among professionals, to build up a realistic and organic culture of transparency, accountability, and recognition.

A detailed report containing the right information is a powerful tool, provided that the actual results or output match the entries in it. Assigned tasks and projects, points of contact, and timelines form the core of this information, while everything else is filler. It’s wholly unnecessary for leaders to know how much time a team member spent making coffee, going to the washroom, or typing up a 10-page proposal. It’s a futile exercise to try to pin down how a team member splits up every minute of their shift if they can accomplish their objectives within the time given. Instead, a report should focus on what must be done, who’s responsible for it and who they asked help from, and when they’re supposed to get it done.

Reports serve as the documentation that leaders need to be assured that time at work is being used to further business goals and objectives in a timely, effective, and consistent manner. Supporting multiple team members as they make progress with their assignments can get hectic; well-formatted and detailed reports make that progress easier to track. They also make it easier for leaders to justify their team’s use of time to higher authorities in the organization.

Most of all, an effective reporting system fosters accountability. The feeling of being watched is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it’s done within reason. Extreme supervision is what makes clock-watcher leadership a bad idea, but removing supervision entirely will also harm the organization. It’s important for team members to embrace the idea that someone will hold them accountable for their responsibilities, and that an effective report is what will turn that into a win-win situation for everyone. Using reports to help phase out clock-watcher leadership is essentially cancelling out one major negative with a pseudo-negative. When used right, reports aren’t the worst thing in the world. Sure, (almost) no one actively enjoys writing reports, but they’re more on our side than against us. And that works to everyone’s favor in a world of work that’s beginning to realize that actual results delivered when they’re needed are more important than watching every minute of a worker’s shift a la Big Brother.

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