Hiding From Big Brother

I recently read an article in Baseline talking about how workers in the UK are up in arms about being tracked by RFID tags in whorehouseswarehouses:

"The fear? The stated fear is they'll be tracked every time they take a break or head for the rest room. The unstated fear: Every movement becomes trackable. Employers, using the information gathered by ever-present radio waves, could see which warehouse worker really is most efficient and prioritize hiring, firing and overtime accordingly."

The article goes on to suggest that sharing the wealth by tying pay to productivity (i.e. rewarding the most productive workers while paying the least productive workers less) would make everybody happy.

While in a perfect world, this might be true, I find that most entrenched union workers are unlikely to embrace such a system of rewards. Indeed, most folks are smart enough to realize that while they might be outputting average productivity right now, a number of workers will begin to work harder, thus raising the bar merely for average pay.

Some will say that such systems are abused. They will say that employers will watch their employees and fire them for no reason (by the way it is both legal and legitimate to fire someone for no reason at all a.k.a. "at-will employment"). Frankly, if the employer wants to fire someone, they don't need such tracking systems as an excuse in an at-will system.

I've actually seen situations like this before, where managers roam the floor, literally stuffing $20 into the pockets of workers as they believe they are doing a good job. Those that seem to be doing average or less than average work get passed by. The employer loves it, and so do those that do good work. Everyone else seems to think the practice is entirely unfair. Surely everyone is entitled to equal pay, even if the work completed isn't equal, right?

I've been in situations where I've been monitored. Does it make me a little uneasy? Sure. But only when I'm doing something that I really shouldn't be doing. I think that's fair enough. Otherwise, I'd have to follow this train of thought: Someone is paying me to do something, and I'm doing something else. Now I'm going to get upset that they can find out about it. Nevermind that I'm literally stealing by not doing the job I'm being paid to do up to my ability. That's a cost of doing business and I shouldn't be held accountable. I'm entitled to that paycheck, even if I didn't earn it. By extension, if I want to pocket some merchandise off the shelf without paying for it, that's okay too, after all, I'm entitled.

Sadly, until we get past the sense of entitlement, I think it will be difficult at the line level to reward those folks who legitimately work hard and do a good job.

Comments 7

  1. Funky Dung wrote:

    LOL. I think Lightwave was victimized by spellchecker. 😉

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 2:08 am
  2. Rob wrote:

    I checked the original reference.

    They’re using RFIDs in warehouses, not whorehouses.

    Just thought I’d help.

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 12:56 am
  3. gbm3 wrote:

    Don’t know about this tag system. Managers should be good enough to know how good a worker is without needing a house arresting device.

    Along the same lines, employees with computers should have their monitor facing out so everyone can see it. There are way too many employees that hide theirs from view and do whatever, non-job related (even off their break).

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 1:53 pm
  4. Lightwave wrote:

    I agree with Der Tommissar here. The key is to understand that both workers and employers do unjust things.

    While I don’t advocate using workers as tools, one cannot ignore the fact that some employees do steal (either productive time, or actual materials). In response to John’s comment: If you believe you shouldn’t be watched, then you advocate that employers should simply trust in humans to be good people, and wait for tangible evidence before assuming someone requires disciplinary action. If this is so, I also suggest you always leave the doors to your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Otherwise, it’s awfully disrespectful to send a message to every passerby that you think they might steal your car. After all, you can always call the Police after your car gets stolen, right?

    I think it is respectable that management understands their duties to their investors, customers, and employees to make sure the company stays viable through ensuring workers actually do work their being paid for. Anything less would be irresponsible.

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 8:06 pm
  5. Der Tommissar wrote:

    A worker must provide his employer with his labor in exchange for a just wage. The employer, on the other hand, must pay a just wage and not treat his laborers as if they were just a tool to be used in any way he sees fit.

    The idea of electric monitoring I think crosses that line.

    Unfortunately, both labor and management in this article talk only about money. We all lose.

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 5:49 pm
  6. John wrote:

    Untitled document It's remarkable to me that someone can manage to have so very little pride.

    I have worked many jobs where I performed much better than other people doing the same job, and still hate it if a manager watches me. It's disrespectful. I do my job, I should not be checked up on.

    When I was working as a tour guide me and the other competent guides refused to talk while any management was in the room, and that made our jobs more dignified and improved the service we provided.

    Posted 11 Aug 2005 at 4:57 pm
  7. howard wrote:

    The thesis you bring here sounds reasonable, but what of workers whose productivity can’t be measured so easily? How do they fit into this ideal?

    Aside from that, there are some very productive workplaces where such close supervision is not utilized (some where almost no supervision is utilized) — do you think these workplaces would maintain the level of productivity if they were suddenly saddled with more invasive observation techniques by their management?

    I guess what I’m saying is that there are some situations where treating your workers like 5-year-olds becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy — at least that’s been my observation, based on the past few places I’ve worked (reflecting over the past decade or so).

    Posted 15 Aug 2005 at 1:11 am

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