Richard Mendelson on Time-Tracking

In this episode, Ben speaks to Richard Mendelson, Ph.D. about a range of topics, including Rich’s work as an expert legal witness and consultant in school violence cases. The heart of the episode is a discussion about the relationship between time-tracking and productivity. The conversation also touches on the impacts of remote work and the gig economy. Check out the episode page for a full transcript and more links.



This transcript is AI-generated and may contain inaccuracies. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Welcome to the Department 12 Podcast where we talk about everything I-O psych. Rejoining me today as one of my first guests, I think, on the show from way, way back. Dr. Richard Mendelson, Ph.D., how are you today, Rich?

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: I’m doing well, Dr. Butina, thanks for having me.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: So, Rich. What are you up to these days? What kind of work are you doing?

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Well, I’m still a professor at Kaiser University and really enjoying what I’m doing there, working with some really great people, both colleagues as well as students and leadership. So I’m really, really happy doing that. And I’ve also kind of found a strange niche in terms of working in the legal world, providing expert witness testimony and, you know, writing up witness reports and affidavits and so on and so forth, primarily dealing with, you know, school violence type things, looking at the differences between the existing policies in place that are supposed to prevent or mitigate these things as opposed to the actual practices, what’s actually being done in in schools that are, you know, kind of allowing some of these things to slip through the cracks. So I’ve, you know, kind of used my old training to kind of identify the flaws in the systems and be able to shed light on them not just to help people in legal situations, but also to hopefully help the school systems close some of those gaps and prevent some of these things from happening.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: It sounds like absolutely fascinating work and probably could be its own episode and maybe it will be at some point. But I know you’re also in addition to helping in that way, you’re also serving as an expert witness more and more these days. What’s that like?

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: It’s pretty cool, actually. I kind of fell into it. It wasn’t something I really had planned on. I have a friend who has been doing it for some time in a different field, and one of the cases he was working on, they, you know, had a need for somebody who not only understood education systems, but also, you know, kind of had an eye background in terms of being able to look at the way things are supposed to be done, being able to support the way things are supposed to be done with the research and the evidence and the data. And, you know, I kind of did it as a favor and it just kind of grew from there. So, you know, in any given year, I mean, I may pick up not a ton of cases, but, you know, I could pick up between five and ten different cases over the course of a year. And some of them are done quickly because they settle out. Once things go through Discovery and others, they kind of drag on and go through the legal system. So sometimes I have to provide testimony and I’ve done that in, you know, civil court as well as actually military court martials, disciplinary hearings and things like that.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Wow. So the first time you did that, if you don’t mind my asking, how nervous were you want a scale of 1 to 10?

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Okay. So the first time I ever wrote the report, I wasn’t nervous at all because, you know, like everybody in the field, you we know what we’re what we’re doing. So it’s really just putting the words on paper, so to speak. But the first time I testified was actually in a military hearing. And that was incredibly nerve wracking because, you know, you’re brought in and you’re in front of a number of very high ranking military officials. And it doesn’t run necessarily the way, you know, civilian court system does.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Mm hmm.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: You get grilled by the opposing counsel and you get grilled by the three people who are essentially like the judges in those cases.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Oh, fascinating.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: So that yeah, that goes on for quite some time. They want to really establish that you have knowledge and expertise in the field before they kind of allow you to provide testimony and input into whatever the case may actually be about. So, yes, it was it was it was a very nerve-racking thing. The environment feels different because it’s a very military presence.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: And, you know, in that case, I was the one person who was not affiliated with the military. All of the people involved in the case were all of the people overseeing it were. So, yes, it was it was very, very nerve wracking.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: True. And people think their dissertation defenses are hard! Having opposing counsel and the three judges grilling you on your qualifications to make sure you know what you’re talking about. Sounds like not a lot of fun, but clearly you got through it.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Now we wanted to talk today about a particular topic that actually came up on LinkedIn, which more and more I find actually having some pretty cool, substantive conversations out there on LinkedIn. But for those who don’t know, I share research every week. Usually in the form of a poll. So I’ll share what the experiment was or the study was, and then ask people to guess or estimate or whatever you want to call it, what they think the outcome was. In this case, I shared an experiment on time theft. Basically, this is doing anything at work other than working. So daydreaming, shopping on Amazon, whatever.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Researchers presented these participants with one or two paragraphs. So this is sort of a priming thing. Group A got this message that shows that 80% of all employed individuals admit to spending a lot of time doing things that aren’t directly related to work. And Group B got this kind of control message. It just said, hey, you know, we’re interested in and people’s perceptions of of doing things that are not directly related to work And then they ask them to, you know, fill out a survey that said how willing they were, the survey respondents to to engage in some time theft after doing this. And you might expect that researchers found that group A that we’re given this social cue that time theft is okay. We’re more likely to to say that yeah, I’ll steal some time. Time theft is A-OK without getting a whole lot into the design. More anything about this research. Rich, you made a comment that really got my attention. And you you started off by saying, you know, I don’t think this is going to be popular, but you feel like anything that’s not specifically a time based profession like shift work, for example, or, you know, some form of hospitality that there shouldn’t be time tracking, you know, that that making folks who don’t have time tied jobs, track time is a form of time theft. It’s just not productive. So yeah, I mean, say more about that, I guess.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Well, first, I know that I know about myself enough to to know that there are times I’m quite contrary. And I’ve been told that by a number of people in our field colleagues. But I think in this particular type of a situation, I mean, if we learned anything through, you know, the experience with the COVID pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, it’s that many jobs can be done in a remote capacity. And, you know, ultimately, I think that we’re seeing the gig economy is continuing to grow. In fact, I mean, there’s there’s a lot of stuff out there online, you know,

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: With with all kinds of numbers and stats. But, you know, the general consensus in a lot of these places that you look, you’ll see just in the U.S. they expect the gig economy to grow, to, you know, over 76 million people working in a freelance capacity. And

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Mm hmm.

Richard Mendelson, Ultimately, you know, when you have a job that that requires a level of expertise. I think that you don’t necessarily need to punch a time clock. I mean, if you look at the way things are done, for example, if you were to go into a restaurant and order a pizza, you’re paying the people there to provide you with a product, right?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Mm

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: You’re

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: hmm.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: not paying them for the time they put into. Creating that product. I mean, whether it takes 5 minutes or 15 minutes, you’re paying for the pizza.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Sure.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: The same thing with things like, you know, graphic design. I mean, a lot of the gig economy type jobs that are out there. And I kind of look at it from a perspective of, you know, when you have situations in which you’re forced to punch a time clock and, you know, you’re not just going through the motions like you’re at home or you’re working and somebody is actually monitoring whether or not you’re seated at your computer during that time just for the sake of ensuring that you are present there

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: while you’re clocked.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: I think that’s nonsensical. I mean, in this day and age, we have to recognize our economy

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: is not that way anymore.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: And

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I think

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: you

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: that

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: know.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: kind of I think I, I don’t think I disagree with almost anything that you said. I definitely agree with you that this sort of covert surveillance that is sometimes happening to make sure. But certain seats is.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Intrusive.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Well. Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Inappropriate.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah. Once they intrusive and. Yeah. That also could be a whole other episode. But I don’t think anybody on the show is going to be arguing for that. But I feel like maybe that’s a little bit of a dichotomy to go all the way to. To that,

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: But.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I guess I would just think more about like just, hey, track your hours. How long did it take you to work on that?

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Sure.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: You mentioned graphic design, which is a great example. So, you know, when I get a completed design, you’re right, it doesn’t matter. The quality of it is not dependent on how long it took the designer to make it.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Correct.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: However, the speed at which I get the design, which is part of what I’m paying for, is also pretty important. I when

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: It.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I you know, I work with graphic designers a lot now for about 20 years. And when you share that, I was like, wow, they’re they’re not going to recognize their profession in this because that is definitely not like that’s not a freedom that they have to take as long as they want. On

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Correct.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: honor design. And I feel like that’s probably true for almost every kind of knowledge work out there. Time really does matter because although the end product quality is not dependent on the time, necessarily the

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Correct.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: delivery and therefore the ability to create more of those products depends on time. So it seems to me like tracking time is still really important.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: It can be. But I think what we’re. I’m glad you brought that up, because if you think about it logically, right, like if you take the two of us, for example, if both of us are, we’ll just keep with graphic designers. Right. And

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Sure.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: let’s say that we’re able to generate work that’s of similar quality. Right. If it takes you an hour to do that work and it takes me 2 hours to do that work,

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Mm

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: we’re

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: hmm.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: in the same position in an organization. If we’ve been there the same time, in all likelihood, we’re making very similar wages. But because it takes you twice as long or I’m sorry, it takes me twice as long as you to do the work you’re going to be producing almost double, because that’s what’s going to be demanded of you. Whereas I may be producing at my pace, creating half of what you’re creating in that same time period. And to me, the issue is, is that you end up in a situation where people who are more talented or more capable or perhaps more experienced, maybe it’s not about talent or ability, it’s just more experience. They kind of get punished with heavier workloads. And we see this happening across the board in many fields. Instead of employees who are doing the best work for the organization being somehow rewarded, the reward seems to be coming in the form of more work and more responsibility. And in this day and age, that added responsibility often comes without any added compensation, any titular promotion, or any type of tangible benefit for the person who’s generating that work. So

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah,

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: in

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I just.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: that sense, you’re being you’re

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: having more time to go.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: And how would you how would you go about addressing that situation or fixing it without having an idea of how much work each person is capable of? By by tracking their time and productivity.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Well, I think in a lot of ways the gig economy has kind of already done that. And I’m not saying the gig economy setup will work for everyone. Right. I know that there are fields that are heavily going to be time dependent, you know, first responders, for example. It’s not about who puts the fires out the best. It’s about union people in the firehouse at all time. You know, so obviously there are going to be fields where this just is just not applicable. But I think in fields where people are right now being compensated for their time. The gig economy tends to compensate people for their work product. So you have people who are able to really set the terms for their own work engagements. They’re able to price themselves where they believe their value is dependent on demands and so forth. I think what we’re seeing is a shift towards more of almost like an individual capitalistic type of a work economy. And I know capitalism can be considered a dirty word in a lot of circles in that. I get that. But I think the point here is when you have a job or a skill set that enables you to dictate the terms of your own employment, it really shifts power away from large organizations and puts it in the hand of the workers. And in a lot of ways, if you go back to, like, you know, the original ideas and ideologies of like why people unionized and, you know, to make sure people were being fairly compensated, were being able to work reasonable hours and have good work conditions. I mean, in a lot of ways, the gig economy can can put that in the hands of every individual to choose where they work from, what hours they put in, and essentially how much they charge for the services that they’re able to provide. So yeah, I think that it’s difficult. The transition will be challenging, but I think the reality is, is that we have right now a number of organizations that are trying to kind of, you know, essentially force people to go back to the office, back to being on site. And, you know, again, if it’s necessary, I mean, there’s no argument against it. But I think in a lot of places, we’ve already seen that people are able to do the work at a high level, even if they’re working remote. So to have them come back and force them to be in the office, I mean, essentially organizations are kind of like saying, okay, we’re going to essentially give our best people a reason to look elsewhere where they have the freedom. See, freedom tends to be more of an incentive these days than a lot of other forms of compensation because of the rise of technology and mobile devices. We have the ability to do a tremendous number of jobs and serve on a huge number of functions in a remote capacity.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah. You know, I agree.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: That

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I agree again

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: is

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: with

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: the

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: most

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: evil

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: of what you

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: and

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: said.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: arrogance of leaders.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Mm hmm. So I agree with most of what you said. I, I don’t think anybody’s arguing for a forced return to office. I’m not sure exactly how we got from A to B, but I want to talk to you about this idea about the gig worker,

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Okay.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: because, you know, when it’s nice, I do that myself with consulting and that kind of stuff.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Sure.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: But if I’m not tracking my time and forget about an employer, but if I’m not tracking my time, how do I even know what to offer to clients? You know, how could I even say, Yes, I can help you with this course without knowing, you know, sort of how it would fit into my schedule, what I could do. I think maybe where we’re talking past each other is that. I’m thinking because I’ve spent so much of my life, I guess, working in H.R. related roles of how tracking time can be used to benefit the employee or to protect

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Okay.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: the employee, versus tracking time as a way of shaking your finger at someone and trying to make sure that they’re in their seat at the right time. So an example of this would be, yeah, you’re right. You know, there’s this wild variation in how long it takes to do a project. And do you have people on your team who because they were maybe earlier in their career or less experienced or whatever, you know especially if they’re working from home and you’re not monitoring them or anything, are they putting in like 12, 14 hour days every day, seven days a week as a as a manager, really want to know that so we can stop it, you know, you help. I also need to know that for, like, planning, how can I ever promise anything to anyone without knowing what it would take? And I wonder if that’s it. I wonder if that is, like, just we’re coming at this from different angles.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Well, I think we’re looking at it just from the like you’re saying, like different perspectives. I mean, you you’re

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Well.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: viewing this from the perspective of a benevolent leadership wanting to be able to help the employees, wanting to be able to do the right thing, making sure people aren’t taking on too much or putting in those 14 or 15 hour days regularly.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: But I think that much like many other things that have become policy or law, the intent was good, but the application of it ends up being a negative force, right? So for example, you know, if if you have a person who is working in a place and they complete their work in, let’s say, 4 hours and they’re paid based on a time clock if they’re doing the same amount of work as another person who takes six or 8 hours to do it, they’re going to have their time filled with more work, like

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Mm

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: I was

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: hmm.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: saying earlier. But

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: if you’re looking at this from a benevolent perspective and it’s being used to help the personnel, then I think it’s great to track time. Right. I just don’t think that time should necessarily be a factor of compensation in those fields where it’s really the final product or outcome that is relevant. Right. Like, I mean, let’s let’s be honest here. I mean, you know, if if you, God forbid, woke up and you had chest pain and you went in and you needed an operation on your heart, whoever your surgeon is, that operation that may take them 45 minutes, but it saves your life. Right. So do you do you argue and say, I only want to pay you for 45 minutes of your time? Or are you really getting the value from them of the many years of training, expertize and experience that they have that allowed them to do such a good job in 45 minutes? And I think that’s the inherent difference. If if we’re paying people based on their expertize and the value of what they create, I think you’re going to see a large improvement in, you know, things like job satisfaction. I think you’re going to have people who are going to have higher levels of perceived career success because they’re able to set their own value in their own terms, as opposed to having to fit into the mold of an existing organization that at this point, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t necessarily need to police your time to use it against you. You know what I’m saying? And

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: I think

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: do.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: that’s the

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: dichotomy

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: do.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: in our ways of thinking about it. You know, I think

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: You

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: you’re

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: know,

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: looking

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I think.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: at it from that benevolent perspective, which is great and commendable.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Well, you know, it’s not a completely benevolent and also want, you know, from a manager’s point of view, to be able to plan work and that kind of thing. But I do think maybe we’re looking at this just from different angles. But I think there is you know, we got to wrap up soon, but I think there

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Okay.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: is something that we could probably agree on, which is that if, you know, our field of industrial and organizational psychology was doing a better job of helping people measure productivity to to measure contribution. However, we want to put it, but to measure the real value of the work as provided, if we were better able to equip people to measure that, we wouldn’t be having this discussion about time.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: I agree 1,000,000%.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: All right, Rich, this was great conversation. I’m

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: going to

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Enjoyed

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: have you back

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: it.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: to talk about this expert witness stuff because it’s totally fascinating. If people want

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: The.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: to reach out to you, where can they find you?

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: So you can still get me on X or Twitter or whatever they’re calling it these days. It’s at our Mendelson, Ph.D., you know, and that’s kind of like I kind of do more like, you know, work related type stuff on there. But if anybody’s interested in like, you know, just hobbies and things like that, like for me, I like to ride my motorcycle. I know we have a few people in our field who ride connect with me on Instagram and that’s they get at our Mendelson as well. You know, of course

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: What?

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: LinkedIn. I’m always on your posts. I know you and I are connected, so certainly they can get me there. Yeah, I mean, I’d

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Not.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: love to connect with more people in the field and I

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: know that the podcast is growing a lot in popularity. I actually I don’t think I mentioned it to you, but I was traveling about a week ago and somebody on the plane with me was actually

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: What

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: listening to one of your podcast. I think it was one. Yeah, it was pretty

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: a.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: cool. They were listening to one. I think it was Mike Chetta and Sy Islam.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Oh. Okay.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: One of the earlier ones. But yeah, I mean, I saw it and I thought, wow, that’s great, man. I know

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: That

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: those

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: is.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: guys. That’s cool, you know?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: So.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Well, thank you very much for sharing that. We will make

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: We’ll be sure we get your correct the links to all these networks in the show notes. So if anybody’s listening, you want to connect with Rich. Check the show notes. The links will be there. Also connect with me and Rich on LinkedIn. And you can follow these polls that spark some of these conversations sometime. Thanks for being here, Rich.

Richard Mendelson, Ph.D.: My pleasure, man. Thank you so much for having me.