I’m always intrigued by what motivates people and the podcast, The Daily, ran a segment this week on workplace surveillance, which I found both interesting and somewhat shocking. I had heard about software that employers are using to track productivity of employees. I thought it was largely related to specific industries like call centers or Amazon fulfillment centers, where employees were performing repetitive tasks. What I learned was that the surveillance software has widespread use across all industries, including health care companies, investment banks, accounting firms and law firms. In some cases, the software not only tracks keystroke activity but actually takes random pictures of employees throughout the day and if an employee happens to be on a rest room break when the picture is taken, their pay is docked.
The segment explained that when the pandemic started and most employees were working virtually, some companies found that they had employees actually working for another company on a full-time basis or employees watching Netflix for hours during the day. Needless to say, this technology helped to curtail those types of abuses. Some employees also felt that the software kept them more focused in a world of seemingly endless cell phone pings. Some also felt that it evened the playing field as employees are rewarded for the work done and not because of a better relationship with the bosses. However, by and large, employees reported that these systems created an atmosphere of distrust and anxiety for the workers.
The biggest concern raised by employees as well as the software developers was that for such a system to be effective, the employer needs to get the metrics and measurements correct. If you are in a business that requires some level of thought by employees but are using a software that provides metrics on keystrokes, guess what, employees are going to stop thinking and simply keep punching at that keyboard. The most amusing part of the segment is the new technology developed to get around the surveillance technology. If you google “mouse jiggler,” you’ll see a lot of options on Amazon. The mouse jiggler is a device that continuously moves your mouse so that it appears that you are working at your computer.
On one hand, I understand that employers want employees to be working diligently for the hours they are paid. On the other hand, I’ve seen reports that positive workplace satisfaction increases productivity dramatically. I believe positive motivation and proper management will increase productivity more than any surveillance strategy. I’m just glad that I work in an environment where we can measure productivity and effectiveness in ways that don’t seem like an invasion of privacy or mistrust of our employees.
Take care and stay safe.
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah
When he was just a boy, Ilyas was stolen from his parents on the coast of east Africa by German colonial troops. After years away, fighting against his own people, he returns home to find his parents gone and his sister, Afiya, abandoned into de facto slavery. Hamza, too, returns home from the war, scarred in body and soul and with nothing but the clothes on his back–until he meets the beautiful, undaunted Afiya. As these young people live and work and fall in love, their fates knotted ever more tightly together, the shadow of a new war on another continent falls over them, threatening once again to carry them away.