Workers Tracked On the Job

Discussion
Jun 07, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


The idea is straightforward. Companies in the U.K., including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Boots and Marks & Spencer, are having warehouse workers wear mini computers on their
wrists, fingers, arms and in vests to improve communication and enhance operational efficiencies.


It is this continuous “surveillance” that has some within trade unions and elsewhere wondering if companies have gone too far in their search to reduce costs and manage their
businesses more effectively.


Martin Dodge, a researcher at the centre for advanced spatial analysis at University College London, told The Guardian, “These devices mark the total ‘disappearance of
disappearance’ where the employee is unable to do anything without the machine knowing or monitoring.”


Others are concerned, that by finding the most efficient way to do certain tasks, companies may wind up injuring workers who are required to repeat physical actions based on
a computer analysis.


Still others think the computers are turning humans into little more than flesh and blood robots. A union official, Paul Campbell, said, “We are having reports of people walking
out of jobs after a few days’ work, in some cases just a few hours. They are all saying that they don’t like the job because they have no input. They just followed a computer’s
instructions.”


Moderator’s Comment: Is the use of technology, as is being done in the U.K., to track employee activities on the job a legitimate method for improving
organizational efficiency and effectiveness or is it, as critics suggest, an invasion of privacy, a potential physical danger to workers and a killer of individual initiative?


George Anderson – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

7 Comments on "Workers Tracked On the Job"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 8 months ago

Where does it end? Do we want technology to track workers’ bathroom habits, or how many bites it takes them to finish their sandwiches, or how many seconds it takes for them to get back to work? Sure, more efficiency can always be wrung out of the system, but at some point the system and technology are so dehumanizing that the human managers-bosses should have common sense enough to say “stop.” And, I think we are about there.

Reminds me of the old Harold Lloyd story of visiting a backroom where there was a roll of toilet paper bolted to the table. The purpose was so that employees would take what paper they needed BEFORE entering the bathroom. The idea was to prevent theft of rolls of toilet paper. As Harold said, “You have to be a good estimator.” Nowadays, the roll would be automated and only dole out the “required” number of sheets.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
15 years 8 months ago
I fully agree that it is the way the technology is implemented and used. Management may use it as a means to support and enhance an employee’s performance, as well as to demean and dehumanize them. There are many cell phones today that have tracking features, and some Japanese companies are using those to track all employees. Although the “track” or path of any one employee may be of considerable interest to their immediate supervisor, with our PathTracker(R) technology we have been a great deal more interested in the performance of the “crowd.” This sidesteps the privacy issue for the time being. Understanding aggregate behavior is more useful because, at the end of the day, it is an aggregate deposit you want to make at the bank. Admittedly, this is the sum of a lot of individuals. But there are things you will figure out about the crowd that you would never see by focusing on the individual. You will never form a proper appreciation for the beauty and nuance of the forest while you… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

While the other contributors’ comments are all absolutely correct in attributing potential success or failure to the human beings controlling the computers on their subservient human colleagues, I have absolutely no conviction that what we are seeing isn’t the tip of a colossal iceberg. And I don’t mean one of those that will be globally warmed although it might well cause a tsunami when the recipients decide not to cooperate.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 8 months ago

If you believe that people go to work only to earn money to live, then this technology may be appropriate. But, if you believe that part of the attraction of employment is socializing, fulfillment, self esteem, accomplishment, career advancement, getting out of the house and, yes, fun, then perhaps it’s not so appropriate.

For decades many successful companies have relied on employees for ideas on improving productivity and gaining efficiencies. The best of these even have reward systems. This kind of problem-solving co-authorship produces workplace solutions that benefit everybody, and employees who have a stake in the success of their own ideas.

But then, exchanging ideas with actual workers is so difficult and time-consuming. Wouldn’t it be easier for management just to buy some technology and be done with it?

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 8 months ago

I completely agree with David. It’s not the technology; it’s the implementation of it. If people are otherwise treated respectfully, they will not object and will likely focus on the benefits to them of the technology.

But it doesn’t take an arm tag for people to feel demeaned. It has always been true that those companies who seek out the opinions and input of workers on the bottom rungs are able to discover efficiencies and opportunities that are not always apparent to upper management – it simply takes asking the questions.

Given my general attitudes toward privacy, I’m surprised at myself that I support RFID technologies, but the marketer in me is very taken with the potential. In fact, the consumer in me is taken with the potential. I would love for technology to point me toward sales or the location of items I want.

David Zahn
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

Since the time of Frederick W. Taylor and his “Scientific Management” approach to time and motion studies that were perceived as being way too onerous and intrusive to the workers’ sense of individual freedom, this argument has raged. Just like RFID of recent vintage and even time clocks of previous generations, it is not the “tool” that is either “good or bad” it is the ways in which it is used. Technology can be used equally well to “liberate” the worker from dull tasks as it can create a sense of distrust; it can identify exceptions to the norm that require intervention or it can provide insight into those activities that workers would rather keep under wraps. The choice is in how it is applied.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 8 months ago
Many companies in the good ol’ USA have used similar systems for years. Most tobacco companies utilize computers with which employees input every detail of every call they make during the course of a day. They have call quotas they must meet and sales quotas they must meet. The computer input is uploaded daily and management can see exactly where each employee was and what they were doing every minute of the previous day. I have heard that some of the systems in use have GPS included so current movement can be tracked to the minute. Wouldn’t it fall to “Big Tobacco” to institute a real “Big Brother” system? No fishing or golf with these guys. My advice, go to work somewhere where managers are real and know how to grow people. You know what they say about prison guards – all they really know how to do is count the number of bodies present. Management “tools,” more often than not, produce lazy managers, not better workers.
wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How do you vote - thumbs up or down on the use of tracking technology on humans in the workplace?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...