Account Menu

IP Address:

Recap: The Spy Who Fired Me: The Human Cost of Workplace Monitoring


With the advent of wireless connectivity, along with a steep drop in the price of computer processors, electronic sensors, GPS devices, and radio-frequency identification tags, monitoring has become commonplace. Cornerstone OnDemand is used by companies as a platform which can quickly and easily assess an employee’s performance by analyzing his or her online interactions with access to employee information such as emails, instant messaging and web usage. While this information can be useful for employers to decipher the most efficient performance there is a question of whether this type of extreme monitoring will ultimately cause the deterioration of the individuals in the work place.

“According to Marc Smith, a sociologist with the Social Media Research Foundation, “Anything you do with a piece of hardware that’s provided to you by the employer, every keystroke, is the property of the employer. Personal calls, private photos — if you put it on the company laptop, your company owns it. They may analyze any electronic record at any time for any purpose. It’s not your data.”

“As employees are monitored their daily activities are computed into productivity which is then used to make decisions such as the amount an employee is paid, or whether an employee should be hired or fired.”

“To be assessed by Cornerstone is to have your collaborative partnerships scored as assets and your brainstorms rewarded with electronic badges (genius idea!). It is to have scads of information swept up about what you do each day, whom you communicate with, and what you communicate about. Cornerstone converts that data into metrics to be factored in to your performance reviews and decisions about how much you’ll be paid.”

“Every aspect of an office worker’s life can now be measured,” she writes, “and an increasing number of corporations and institutions . . . are using that information to make hiring and firing decisions.”

In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces, an effort that pushes employees to their mental, emotional, and physical limits; claims control over their working and nonworking hours; and compensates them as little as possible, even at the risk of violating labor laws. In some cases, these new systems produce impressive results for the bottom line: after Unified Grocers, a large wholesaler, implemented an electronic tasking system for its warehouse workers, the firm was able to cut payroll expenses by 25 percent while increasing sales by 36 percent.

Miller’s company is part of an $11 billion industry that also includes workforce-management systems such as Kronos and “enterprise social” platforms such as Microsoft’s Yammer, Salesforce’s Chatter, and, soon, Facebook at Work. Every aspect of an office worker’s life can now be measured, and an increasing number of corporations and institutions — from cosmetics companies to car-rental agencies — are using that information to make hiring and firing decisions. Cramer, for one, is bullish on the idea: investing in companies like Cornerstone, he said, “can make you boatloads of money literally year after year!”

The employers squeeze as much as possible out of each employee to increase their wealth while the average worker is left stuck in a draining cycle of being forced to do more and more work while receiving the same pay.

An article from Santa Clara University discussed this in an article called “LittleBrother is watching you. This article attacks the question of

“New technologies allow employers to check whether employees are wasting time at recreational Web sites or sending unprofessional e-mails. But when do an employer’s legitimate business interests become an unacceptable invasion of worker privacy?”

According to this law this type of monitoring is legal. However, privacy as a moral matter makes it difficult to decipher what is acceptable.

“But the fact that employee monitoring is legal does not automatically make it right. From an ethical point of view, an employee surely does not give up all of his or her privacy when entering the workplace. To determine how far employee and employer moral rights should extend, it’s useful to start with a brief exploration of how privacy becomes a moral matter.”

In “Privacy, Morality, and the Law,” William Parent, also a philosophy professor at SCU, sets out six criteria for determining whether an invasion of privacy is justifiable:
1. For what purpose is the undocumented personal knowledge sought?
2. Is this purpose a legitimate and important one?
3. Is the knowledge sought through invasion of privacy relevant to its justifying purpose?
4. Is invasion of privacy the only or the least offensive means of obtaining the knowledge?
5. What restrictions or procedural restraints have been placed on the privacy-invading techniques?
6.How will the personal knowledge be protected once it has been acquired?

While employers may feel this type of intense monitoring is completely necessary and employees may believe it is extreme and unnecessary there is some common ground between the two beliefs.

“It is possible to moot many of these ethical issues by arguing that monitoring all comes down to a question of contract. That is the view of David Friedman, an economist and professor at SCU’s School of Law.
“There isn’t an agreement that is morally right for everybody. The important thing is what the parties agree to,” he says. “If the employer gives a promise of privacy, then that should be respected.” If, on the other hand, the employer reserves the right to read e-mail or monitor Web browsing, the worker can either accept those terms or look elsewhere for employment, Friedman continues.
Friedman’s argument doesn’t address the problems of lower-income workers who may not have a choice about whether to accept a job or, if they do, may be choosing between entry-level positions where monitoring is a feature of the work environment.”

An individual has the right to not work for a company if they do not wish to be heavily monitored. However, for low income individuals the choice is more difficult because their options are limited and they are often forced to work, regardless of the circumstances, to survive.

, ,