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The Boss is Watching
Close Employee Tracking Is the Future

The grocery store chain Tesco has come up with a new way to guarantee employee productivity: mandatory tracking armbands. Bloomberg Businessweek:

The armbands, officially known as Motorola arm-mounted terminals, look like something between a Game Boy and Garmin GPS device. The terminals keep track of how quickly and competently employees unload and scan goods in the warehouse and gives them a grade. It also sets benchmarks for loading and unloading speed, which workers are expected to meet. The monitors can be turned off during workers’ lunch breaks, but anything else—bathroom trips, visits to a water fountain—reportedly lowers their productivity score.

You may think it sounds vaguely menacing and dehumanizing, but you’re probably going to be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing, especially when it comes to penalizing specific behaviors. For example, as pot legalization gains momentum nationally, employers will likely respond by ramping up drug testing (which is already a common practice in many large companies). Private pressure against pot use will replace criminal sanctions.

Or take health care. If health insurance continues to be tied to employment, we could see employers and insurance companies partner to achieve ever-more precise premium pricing based on employee behavior. Every time a worker takes a smoke break, or eats something unhealthy, or drinks a big soda, he could see his employee contribution to health insurance adjusted correspondingly. Backers of such a system would present it as both a requirement of fairness (the person making riskier choices should pay more) and as a practical way of helping control costs by penalizing costly behaviors.

This Tesco story may horrify you, or it may leave you relatively unperturbed. Either way, we are probably going to see a lot more of this kind of thing.

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  • Boritz

    “Every time a worker takes a smoke break, or eats something unhealthy,
    or drinks a big soda, he could see his employee contribution to health
    insurance adjusted correspondingly.”

    v2.0 could deliver an electric shock. Real-time feedback is more effective than delayed punishment in behavior modification. An easily readable display that shows how many times discipline has been administered would add a shame and humiliation factor that would increase the effectiveness even more. When someone’s discipline count reaches a threshold their name could show up on large displays throughout the organization with or without an accompanying PA announcement. The HR department of the future is going to have so much fun.

    • Dan

      1. I regret that I have but one like to give to your comment
      2. Please don’t give them any ideas

    • Jim__L

      Technical question — do these armbands still function when the workers go to their managers and shove them where the sun fails to shine?

  • stefanstackhouse

    So you can perform like a robot or be fired, which will do for employers until you can be replaced by a robot.

  • Anthony

    Why don’t state legislatures ban this kind of dehumanizing behavior? The lower and middle class people who will be subject to this kind of treatment are the majority in this country. If they act collectively, this kind of stuff can be stopped.

    • Anthony

      Here is a good quote from the Businessweek article that is linked above.

      “Unfortunately, this push into efficiency doesn’t always translate into
      quality. Tesco is one of the major retailers currently embroiled in
      Europe’s ever-widening horse meat scandal. When it turns out that the
      box frozen spaghetti Bolognese contains 60 percent horse meat, it
      doesn’t really matter how quickly it was unloaded from the delivery

  • El Gringo

    This is dehumanizing and terrible but I like cheap stuff so I’m OK with it.

  • Scohn

    The future, you say? Sounds more like a regression to the factory exploitation of the 19th century. Is this VM trying to play agent provocateur?!

    • Jim__L

      Yes, this is nothing but high-tech Taylorism.

      Maybe unions will make a comeback, on this issue.

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