Employers use monitoring techniques to guage how well their employees are working. But are the statistics that the employers use to determine an employee's fate an accurate representation of the worker's ability? For instance, is monitoring the number of lines of code produced in an hour really indicative of how good a programmer is? Many employers and employees alike would argue that a quantitative measurement such as this is not a good indication of how valuable a programmer is. Good programming lies not only in speed but more importantly in the quality and effectiveness of the code. Achieving such quality is often antithetical to programming quickly. Yet this is most often how monitoring is done. The more the better. The faster the better.
And monitoring certainly goes beyond programmers. All sorts of positions can be monitored by computer or over the phone. For example, in telemarketing "the information can be quite detailed: How many transactions were performed? Of what type? With how many errors? When were the transactions performed? How long did they take? What were the longest or the shortest? How many breaks did the employees take? When and for how long?"(13:8) The figures gleaned from this kind of monitoring can be used to judge how good an employee is. But is this really an accurate assessment?
Consider the following analogy: In an attempt to recruit the best basketball players for his team, a coach decides to visit a track meet and select the fastest sprinters he can find. Is his basketball team likely to be spectacular? Most people would probably say "no", that while fast sprinting is definately a characteristic of many good basketball players, the ability to sprint fast does not solely indicate a good basketball player. In fact, there may be little or no correlation at all. Basketball skill requires much more than just being able to run fast. Good shooting skills, rebounding, jumping, and finess are just as important. Likewise, many employees are monitored in such a way that only their speed or time is recorded, regardless of the quality of their work.
Employers might argue with this saying that monitoring is an objective, quantifyable basis for promotion which does not depend on office politics as much as subjective evaluations.(13:8) There is no doubt that these monitoring techniques provide an objective measurement. But the question still remains as to whether or not it is an accurate means of assessment. We already mentioned one case in which pure speed doesn't begin to guage a programmer's abilities. In fact, many employees would argue that monitoring hurts their performance due to stress and other added pressures. Maevon Garrett, an AT&T operator who is monitored said "When people call you feel guilty if you stay on the line. That conversation means seconds to you, and you don't make quota that day. So you end up withholding things that might help people."(11)
Indeed, when workers become hyperconscious of monitoring their performance will undoubtedly suffer. Employees become robots, simply striving to meet their monitor's needs. "In the words of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, 'With each new form of surveillance, we become less like individuals and more like automatons, monitored for defects and aberrant behaviour that will consign us to the reject pile or mark us for corrective measures.'"(12) Measuring how fast an automaton can perform his task surely cannot be an accurate nor healthy way to evaluate employees and increase productivity. In fact, it probably lowers productivity because employees become overly stressed and their performance suffers due to extreme pressure.
Since techniques which purely gauge how rapid an employee is do not accurately convey that worker's abilities, why aren't more accurate monitoring techniques used? The reason is that simple quantitative techniques are the easiest to implement. It is most often the low skilled jobs which are monitored, because much of what is done by employees in these positions can be quantitatively measured. For example, it is much easier to measure the number of bugs a programmer gets in an hour than to measure how well a middle-manager is performing her job. But the problem is that all jobs which can be monitored quantitatvely are, and statistics gleaned from a monitoring session often overshadow the quality of the work being done. Never mind if Joe Programmer produced the most efficient program ever; if he had more than twelve bugs in an hour then he certainly isn't worth his pay.
From an employee's perspective, then, we can understand how monitoring in this quantitative way could be quite frustrating. An employee who puts creative energy into what he does, taking time and care and crafting his work, would be discouraged from such soulful practices and pressured instead into simply meeting the monitor's time requirements. This leads to hastily done, uncreative work which is ultimately bad for the employer as well as the employee.