Wells Fargo fired a dozen people accused of faking keyboard strokes

Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg/Getty Images/File

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The pandemic may have released us from the tyranny of the five-day-a-week office schedule. But the grip of America’s busy-work culture is proving harder to shake.

See here: Wells Fargo this week disclosed that it had fired more than a dozen employees for “simulation of keyboard activity,” Bloomberg reported, citing filings to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. CNN confirmed that multiple people were let go after a review of allegations that they created an “impression of active work.”

In other words, they were faking work, perhaps with the kind of mouse jiggler that you can buy online for $20.

Those devices — which keep your screen active and move your cursor in convincingly random ways — took off during the early days of the pandemic. With employees no longer huddled together under fluorescent lighting, eating sad desk salads, bosses suddenly had to wonder whether their teams were actually working or slacking off.

Even though most workers said they were more productive from home, many executives adopted “bossware” to monitor their staff’s laptops. (And to be fair, yes — sometimes we did step away, selfishly tending to our own personal business, like walking the dog or staring out the window while contemplating our mortality. We hope you can forgive us.)

At any rate, some bankers over at Wells Fargo seem to have gotten caught last month. It’s not clear whether they were working from home or from a beach, or what they were doing instead of working. A bank spokesperson declined to offer more details about the firings, saying only that “Wells Fargo holds employees to the highest standards and does not tolerate unethical behavior.”

I have two immediate thoughts

• Oh, come on, the highest standards? (More on that in a moment.)
• We are four years into this remote/hybrid experiment, and some bosses still haven’t figured out how to treat their workers like adults.

“The sad part is that employees feel the need to purchase and use a mouse jiggler,” Ashley Herd, founder of management training firm Manager Method, tells me. “And that’s a symptom of a much larger problem.”

In Wells Fargo’s case, managerial mistrust would be understandable, given the bank’s history.

Since 2016, Wells has spent billions of dollars settling civil and criminal charges related to a multiyear scheme that led to more than 2 million fake accounts being opened without customers’ consent or knowledge — a practice that began when managers began setting unrealistic sales goals for employees.

Last year, the former head of the bank’s retail operation was sentenced to three years of probation, while the bank’s former CEO was banned from the industry.

Since then, Wells has been trying to reform its own internal culture while trying to repair its brand. It’s not hard to understand why it would want to keep some close tabs on its roughly 200,000 employees.

Banks in particular have strict controls on work-issued devices because the industry is so tightly regulated.

But firing people over mouse movers may not be the best way to foster a culture of trust and inclusion.

“Managers often assume the worst when they see someone’s away, and so they’re looking for any type of data to show that that’s true,” Herd says. “So, team members are going to innovate around that.”

—CNN’s Matt Egan contributed reporting.

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