Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Monitoring Workers To Death?

Apparently, at an Irish grocery chain called Tesco, workers now have monitoring devices strapped to them that examines their every move, making sure they do their work at a frantically fast pace, or else!

For example, they face potential penalties for taking a bathroom break or a sip of water.
Every company has to monitor employees.
But when does it go too far?  
Well, if machines don't take bathroom breaks, why should humans?

Reports The Independent of Ireland:

"A former staff member has claimed employees are given marks based on how efficiently they work in a bid to improve productivity and can be called in front of management if they take unscheduled toilet breaks."

Tesco said the armband devices eliminate the need for workers to carry around pens and paper when logging deliveries or shipments, according to the Independent article.

But former employees say the devices are more sinister than that. According to the Independent:

One former employee said the device provided an order to collect from the warehouse and a set amount of time to complete it. If workers met that target, they were awarded a 100 per cent score, but that would rise to 200 per cent if they worked twice as quickly. The score would fall if they did not meet the target.

If, however, workers did not log a break when they went to the toilet, the score would be “surprisingly lower”, according to the former staff member, who did not want to be named but worked in an Irish branch of Tesco. He said that some would be called before management if they were not deemed to be working hard enough. “The guys who made the scores were sweating buckets and throwing stuff around the place,” he said." 

 According to Salon, which picked up the Independent article, this micro-monitoring of employees has been building steam for some time now. Keystrokes are monitored in the customer service department. Call center conversations have time limits, and at some places, if employees take too long, watch out!

All this might end up backfiring on companies which are trying to boost productivity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a report on job stress, has this to say:

"Some employers assume that stressful working conditions are a necessary evil-that companies must turn up the pressure on workers and set aside health concerns to remain productive and profitable in today's economy. But research findings challenge this belief. Studies show that stressful working conditions are actually associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, and intentions by workers to quit their jobs-all of which have a negative effect on the bottom line."

It also affects the product or service we the consumer get:

Citing research by John Gillion and Torin Monahan, Salon notes:

"For example, nurses are no longer taking the time to get to know their patients because hospitals make more money when more people are hustled through. In the past, nurses had ways to circumvent hospital pressure. Now, electronic tracking of patient movement means that medical profressionals will spend far less time with you when you are sick."

Obviously, we all want to be productive. There are lazy people out there that need to be prodded, but generally most workers do want to get things done and have a sense of accomplishment.

I also think it's more than OK to encourage and push employees into better productivity where possible. But I worry a few companies just think of employees, especially the low level, poorly paid ones, as little more than draft animals or machines that can be goosed and revved up to beyond maximum capacity.

And then, when these overworked and overheated human employees burn out, toss them in the Dumpster with the rest of the broken machines and get a new one, then repeat the process.

Seems to me this rather inhumane business model is great for short term profits, but not long term viability. Who wants to work for a company that treats you like a slave, and who wants to buy stuff from a company that treats people like that? Not only because of the ethics involved, but can we really trust hyper-exhaustive, resentful employees to make a quality product or service?

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