God help us, we’ve entered the age of intense employee surveillance. This stunning article reports on the absurd lengths employers are going to surveil their own staff, evaluating them on inconsequential metrics of online activity, mouse movement, and idleness. Such surveillance technology not only docks pay if you’re not being “productive” at your keyboard, but it also erodes mental health and sows the seeds of mistrust throughout teams. This is what happens when we become convinced that an organization’s effectiveness is nothing more than adding up the productivity of its employees.
In my experience advising teams on the 4-Day Workweek, you don’t work one day less just by getting faster and more robotic. That is a recipe for burnout. You gain an extra day off by getting better at prioritizing and de-prioritizing, by continuously learning and iterating around the relationship between effort invested and results produced.
I can’t help but think this surveillance is being used only by those leaders and managers who actually don’t know how to do the work of 1) setting a small number of truly essential goals for their teams, 2) equipping their middle managers to coach and align their direct reports to achieve those goals, 3) building a culture of trust that boosts retention and gives people the psychological safety to do their best work, and 4) holding people accountable to results they’ve accepted as their responsibility.
Perhaps employee surveillance is just a cheap substitute for doing the actual work of management. Perhaps it lets those in power off the hook. It’s far easier to police performance than it is to inspire performance. It’s far easier to monitor productivity than it is to set priorities. We would rather be productive about things that don’t matter than make the hard choices to prioritize what actually does.