You’re Being Watched

Posted on

Employers have a new tool in the struggle with employees over workplace power: constant monitoring.
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

In the back and forth over workplace power, American employers have been getting the better of employees for the past few decades.
Companies have been getting bigger, giving them greater ability to set prices and wages. Labor unions have been shrinking, leaving workers with less ability to negotiate for raises. And court rulings, especially from the Supreme Court, have tended to side with companies over workers or regulators.
You can see these trends in the macroeconomic data. The share of the economy’s output that flows to corporate profits has almost doubled since the mid-1970s, while the share flowing to workers’ compensation has fallen. Or consider this chart:
Stock prices
20 times as high as 1947
Median family income
Stock prices
20 times as high as 1947
Median family income
Notes: Data is adjusted for inflation. Numbersfor 1947 are set to one
Sources: Refinitiv; U.S. Census Bureau; Bureau of Labor Statistics
By The New York Times
As you can see, stock prices and family incomes tracked each other somewhat closely in the decades after World War II — but no longer do.
The Times has just published a story that examines the latest manifestation of companies having the upper hand on workers. The story, by Jodi Kantor and Arya Sundaram, is called “The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score,” and it’s the result of a monthslong investigation. It describes technology-based employee monitoring that often has a Big Brother quality, tracking workers’ keystrokes and more.
Jodi and Arya write:
In lower-paying jobs, the monitoring is already ubiquitous: not just at Amazon, where the second-by-second measurements became notorious, but also for Kroger cashiers, UPS drivers and millions of others.
Now digital productivity monitoring is also spreading among white-collar jobs and roles that require graduate degrees. Many employees, whether working remotely or in person, are subject to trackers, scores, “idle” buttons, or just quiet, constantly accumulating records.
Employees at UnitedHealth Group can lose out on raises or bonuses if they have low keyboard activity. Some radiologists have scoreboards on their computer screens that compare their “inactivity” time with that of colleagues. In New York, the transit system has told some employees that they can work remotely one day a week if they agree to full-time monitoring.
The trend began before the pandemic, and the rise of at-home white-collar work over the past two years has intensified it. “If we’re going to give up on bringing people back to the office, we’re not going to give up on managing productivity,” said Paul Wartenberg, who installs monitoring systems for companies.
But even many in-person jobs now include productivity tabulations. One section of Jodi and Arya’s story describes the frustration of hospice chaplains who receive “productivity points” based partly on how many terminally ill patients they saw in a day.
“This is going to sound terrible,” one chaplain said, “but every now and again I would do what I thought of as ‘spiritual care drive-bys’” to rack up points. If a patient was sleeping, “I could just talk to the nurse and say, ‘Are there any concerns?’ It counted as a visit because I laid eyes.”
Trying to get the most out of workers is nothing new. And some form of accountability is crucial to an organization’s success. But minute-to-minute tracking of employee behavior, often using crude metrics, is a more aggressive form of accountability than has been historically normal.
“This is such an intimate form of control, which is part of why it took months of reporting to see,” Jodi told me. “To be clear, some workers really are derelict. But for many others, this is about what happens when you need to grab 10 minutes to clear your head, or deal with a kid interruption, or take a couple of extra minutes in the bathroom.”
In some cases, the monitoring systems may backfire, and the story documents how they can be inaccurate. Often, though, they can also contain accurate information about how an employee is performing from one minute to the next. And in doing so, they will further tilt the balance of workplace power away from workers and toward employers.
The growing mismatch also helps explain another trend: the increasing interest in labor unions among some workers, after decades of decline. Companies, not surprisingly, are pushing back.
For more: If you read the full story, you will get a sense for what it feels like to be tracked, thanks to a design by my colleagues Aliza Aufrichtig and Rumsey Taylor.
Democrats are outspending Republicans on TV ads about abortion, betting the issue will win independent voters.
After last week’s F.B.I. search of Donald Trump’s home, Republicans are split about how much to criticize law enforcement.
Trump has given conflicting defenses of keeping classified documents, without saying why he kept them.
Five members of Congress arrived in Taiwan, less than two weeks after a visit by Speaker Nancy Pelosi prompted Chinese military drills.
TikTok has become an incubator for political misinformation.
Explosions around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine have forced civilians from the area. Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the attacks.
A fire during Sunday Mass at a Coptic Orthodox church in Egypt killed at least 41 people.
Before the U.S. can close Guantánamo Bay, it needs to relocate 36 remaining prisoners. Could they be held in Saudi Arabia?
The author Salman Rushdie, who was attacked onstage last week, is starting to recover. Iran has denied involvement, the Washington Post reports.
Anne Heche, whose films included “Donnie Brasco” and “Wag the Dog,” was taken off life support after a car crash. She died at 53.
Norway killed a 1,300-pound walrus named Freya, who had attracted crowds as she lounged on boats.
Congress is shooting for the moon. It’s getting close, Farah Stockman writes.
In the opioid epidemic, citizens are stepping in to help where the government does not, Beth Macy writes.
No more lush lawns: In dry Los Angeles, grass gives way to gravel.
Seventy-five years later: The fading ghosts of India’s bloody partition.
Joy and relief: How baby gear beat fears of pointless consumerism.
Quiz time: The average score on our latest news quiz was 9.1. Can you beat it?
A Times classic: Coming to understand a schizophrenic mother.
Advice from Wirecutter: How to get rid of ants.
Lives Lived: Years after Zofia Posmysz survived concentration camps, she thought she heard the voice of her former guard in Paris — a moment that inspired her best-known work, “The Passenger in Cabin 45.” She died at 98.
Disaster averted? New York Jets starting quarterback Zach Wilson will undergo surgery this week for a knee injury sustained in the team’s first preseason game Friday. If all goes smoothly, he could be recovered by Week 1 of the regular season. If not? It could be Joe Flacco time.
A playoff picture is set: The W.N.B.A. playoffs are here to save us from the sports lull of deep summer. The league wrapped up its regular season yesterday as the Las Vegas Aces claimed the No. 1 seed for the postseason, relegating the defending champion Chicago Sky to No. 2.
A classic Premier League rivalry renewed: Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham yesterday had both head coaches red-carded after the final whistle as match-long tension boiled over. The season is just two weeks young, but we may have already seen one of its defining moments.
Has Deshaun Watson hurt the Cleveland Browns’ bottom line? Depends on where you look.
When the B-52’s played their first gig in 1977, the self-described “freaks” from Athens, Ga., couldn’t imagine that they would someday be rock stars. “It was a hobby,” the singer Fred Schneider said. “We’d jammed once or twice. We didn’t even have the money to buy guitar strings.”
But they had an undeniable appeal — sharp guitars, shouted choruses, campy wigs — that carried them from underground misfits to Top 10 hits, most memorably the 1989 song “Love Shack.” Now, after more than four decades, they have announced that their upcoming tour will be their last. They spoke with The Times about their careers.
For more: These bands influenced, and were influenced by, the first B-52’s album.
Use summer tomatoes for pasta with goat cheese.
These action movies.
In the novel “A History of Present Illness,” a doctor feels everything.
The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were draping and parading. Here is today’s puzzle.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Blended mush (five letters).
And here’s today’s Wordle. After, use our bot to get better.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. During an “unremitting” heat wave, New Yorkers bought up almost all of the area’s air-conditioners, The Times reported 34 years ago today.
Here’s today’s front page.
The Daily” is about a tax loophole.
Matthew Cullen, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Ashley Wu contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at
Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.