Worker Productivity Scores: Exploitation Gets an Innovation

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The bosses are always trying to find new ways to squeeze more work out of us throughout the day. If there’s any way bosses can find to make us work more like machines, they’ll take it. And in response to the increasing numbers of workers working from home due to Covid, companies decided to monitor workers’ lives and time even more closely. And, according to a recent article in the New York Times, because so much work is now done through computers, there are now enhanced tools for corporations to monitor the work day down to the last second.

Companies such as UnitedHealthcare have hired software firms, such as Worksmart, to make tracking software in order to monitor their workers’ performance. What does this tracking software mean? The time that workers spend typing or moving their mouse is recorded. Software takes pictures of workers’ faces or screenshots of their computers at ten-minute intervals to ensure they’re still at their desks. And some companies will only pay workers for the time they spent “active” at their keyboards — even if work had to be done offline, too. All of this means more stress and anxiety on the job, more speed-up of work, and more profits for big corporations.

One of the worst examples of this strict control over time was by a company called Allina Health. Allina Health hired hospice chaplains to provide spiritual services to those at the end of life. In August 2020, Allina Health introduced a new metric to measure the work of their chaplains called “productivity points.” The chaplains had to register their visits to patients during the day to earn points, and if the chaplains didn’t reach a certain target, they could lose pay or even lose their job. Many chaplains began prioritizing visits to patients that would give them the most points — even if they weren’t the ones most in need. One chaplain, Heather Thonvold, said she had to resort to “spiritual care drive-bys” just to earn enough points. The insanity of the productivity system eventually led her to quit.

The use of enhanced software in white collar businesses may be new, but the bosses controlling our time certainly isn’t. Intense monitoring of workers’ productivity like this has long been a part of most industries. More recently, Amazon workers have spoken out against the ridiculous minute by minute monitoring of their day. Any time spent talking with coworkers or even taking a short break is counted as “time off task,” leading to discipline from the supervisor. Even taking too much time in the bathroom can be grounds for discipline or even being fired. UPS has been monitoring their drivers for years. Sensors in UPS trucks now collect data about exactly when drivers start their engines, buckle their seatbelts, and open their doors. Recently, UPS even began to install cameras in their trucks to record drivers during every hour of the working day. But UPS refused to install any air conditioning units in their trucks, even as some drivers have died because of the brutal heat inside UPS trucks.

Why are businesses so intent on micromanaging every second of every day of our lives? Because that’s how they make their profits. Corporations need our labor to make this system run and they need to extract as much time from us as possible to make their money. We shouldn’t have to put up with this humiliating time management just to make the rich richer.