For generations, workers have been punished by corporate bosses for watching the clock. But now, the corporate clock is watching workers.
Called “digital productivity monitoring,” this surveillance is done by an integrated computer system including a real-time clock, camera, keyboard tracker, and algorithms to provide a second-by-second record of what each employee is doing.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos pioneered use of this ticking electronic eye in his monstrous warehouses, forcing hapless, low-paid “pickers” to sprint down cavernous stacks of consumer stuff to fill online orders, pronto — beat the clock, or be fired.
Terrific idea, exclaimed taskmasters at hospital chains, banks, tech giants, newspapers, colleges, and other outfits employing millions of mid-level professionals.
They’ve been installing these unblinking digital snoops to watch their employees, even timing their bathroom breaks and constantly eying each one’s pace of work. They’ve plugged in new software with such Orwellian names as WorkSmart and Time Doctor to count worker’s keystrokes and to snap pictures every 10 minutes of workers’ faces and screens, recording all on digital scoreboards.
You are paid only for the minutes the computers “see” you in action. Bosses hail the electronic minders as “Fitbits” of productivity, spurring workers to keep noses to the grindstone, and also to instill workplace honesty.
Only… the whole scheme is dishonest.
No employee’s worthiness can be measured in keystrokes and 10-minute snapshots! What about thinking, conferring with colleagues, or listening to customers? No “productivity points” are awarded for that work.
For example, the New York Times reports that the multibillion-dollar United Health Group marks its drug-addiction therapists “idle” if they are conversing off-line with patients, leaving their keyboards inactive.
Employees call this digital management “demoralizing,” “toxic,” and “just wrong.” But corporate investors are pouring billions into it. Which group do you trust to shape America’s workplace?
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.