August 30, 2022
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Employee Monitoring Isn’t Just for the Factory Floor Any More


When Frederick Taylor first began testing his “scientific management” theories as a foreman at Midvale Steel Company in the late nineteenth century, his focus was on factory floor productivity, trying to determine how to improve the efficiency of industrial workers. Since then such productivity monitoring has filtered into low-wage service work, such as fast-food prep or warehouse sorting and now to more white collar work where employees are monitored by software that logs keystrokes, active screen time, and even whether or not a worker is in front of their laptop.

This is the story the New York Times recently took up with a large-scale survey of hundreds of workers across the country to understand their experiences with workplace monitoring, especially in white collar jobs which are increasingly going remote. What has long been known by factory workers and low-wage workers like Amazon packers the world over is now entering the work lives of the college educated “thought” workers.

The Times article profiles numerous employees, managers and software engineers behind workplace monitoring software and discovered people who were docked pay for not being at their desk or typing enough, a bereavement chaplain who had to earn performance points by attending funerals or making phone calls to grieving family members, and a many who felt they were not being compensated for work that didn’t take place on a computer where they were monitored.

As more people desire to continue remote work, these kinds of frictions are set to increase and, combined with companies desperate to get employees back in the office, these problems are likely to mount in the coming months and years.

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