The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score

from NYTs

A FEW YEARS AGO, Carol Kraemer, a longtime finance executive, took a new job. Her title, senior vice president, was impressive. The compensation was excellent: $200 an hour.

But her first paychecks seemed low. Her new employer, which used extensive monitoring software on its all-remote workers, paid them only for the minutes when the system detected active work. Worse, Ms. Kraemer noticed that the software did not come close to capturing her labor. Offline work — doing math problems on paper, reading printouts, thinking — didn’t register and required approval as “manual time.” In managing the organization’s finances, Ms. Kraemer oversaw more than a dozen people, but mentoring them didn’t always leave a digital impression. If she forgot to turn on her time tracker, she had to appeal to be paid at all.

“You’re supposed to be a trusted member of your team, but there was never any trust that you were working for the team,” she said.

Since the dawn of modern offices, workers have orchestrated their actions by watching the clock. Now, more and more, the clock is watching them.

More here.

Posted in Careers, Privacy, Technology and tagged , , , , .


  1. Personally, I believe that all employees should be paid for the time they are officially on the clock and not by a computer-operated system that focuses on employee productivity. For instance, technology tends to make mistakes and can often mess up sometimes. Also, it’s unfair to the employee because there’s a lot of work people do either hands-on or on paper, and the computer-operating system wouldn’t be able to count that as productive working time. I view this as an injustice tactic against workers, favoring employers by a wide margin. Living in a period where workers have limited rights, counting workers’ productivity would make things extremely worst and could potentially cause workers to go on strike. I believe the best thing to do would be to determine the worker’s time based on hours on the clock.

  2. I feel that when it comes to the workplace, although we are advancing in technology, we are also going back in time. Back in the day, workers would need to clock in and out using timecards and their employers would trust them that they completed work for the day and get paid a strict salary. Now, employers determine how much their employees get paid by using a software that detects active work. Although this may seem like a good idea for remote jobs, it is very flawed. The software does not accurately compute the amount of work an employee does. There is no possible way for a software to detect active work; what does the software define active work as? There have been many times where I have been stuck on the same computer screen for more than an hour trying to solve a math problem. Just because I am still on the same screen, does not mean I have stopped working on trying to solve the problem. The work I was doing off-screen should be accounted for. As time evolved, I feel as though the less people can be trusted which is why micromanaging has become the new standard. This new form of management feels humiliating and toxic, just like the article writes. I understand why employers would enforce this new method of management, but the method is clearly not practical. The article mentions that across social media, ways to outsmart the software have been shared, which translates to lazy, unproductive employees appear to be completing more work than they are, while the productive employees appear to be doing less work because they are obeying by the flawed system. It is a lose-lose situation for both the employer and the employees. The software is most likely expensive to purchase and install and it is very inaccurate for the employee. Personally, if I was working at a company that had a software determining how much money I earn through its detection of “active work,” I would quit. The only person who knows how much work they completed in a day is the employee themselves, not a piece of technology. From the employer’s point of view, adding a feature of taking a random picture of an employee to verify they are working is smart, but for the employees, it is a huge invasion of privacy. If the employee did not consent to getting their picture taken, they can sue the company. If I was an employer, I would go back to making my employees clock in and out using a timecard rather than using a faulty software to track their active work completed in a work day.

  3. In the workplace, measuring productivity by productivity within a computer system would prove to be inaccurate in many cases. Especially in an administrative/leadership position or collaborative elements where you may have to leave your desk to check on your team and make sure everyone is squared away.
    In my current job, I rely on many other people throughout the day to help customers get what they need, and other associates rely on me to help get whatever has to be done, done. If I were to be paid based on my time spent typing away on the computer, or completing and processing transactions, I would not be getting paid as much as I am now. In a full eight our shift, my best estimate of how much time I spend on my computer is about sixty percent. I would give another twenty percent to phone calls with manufacturers, suppliers, and businesses. Another fifteen percent would go to coordinating with specialists in certain departments for assistance in exceeding consumer expectations so that we drive sales and make a seamless experience for customers and businesses to keep them coming back. The other five percent is just playing the waiting game and that is primarily waiting for a manager’s signature or approval on a transaction. With that all broken down, I’d be getting sixty percent of my pay, when the other forty percent of my time is critical in making the sixty percent possible. If that is the case for my low level job, I cannot imagine it is very different in post-grad careers. All in all, determining how much you pay your employees based on how many keyboard strokes per hour, or whatever the case may be, is unfair just not right. You cannot measure collaboration and workplace interaction with software, and if my employer implemented that system, I would start surfing the internet for a new job.

    • Brendan, I agree that there ends up being a large discrepancy in how much work a system may count compared to the total amount of time you have spent doing work when workers are waiting on things outside of their control. I think you are very true that these types of productivity trackers will ultimately begin to drive workers away from the organization. Workers will always eventually move to where they are treated best, not only with regards to compensation, but also in working conditions and then flexibility that is provided to them. In many companies that use these types of systems, employees may still feel trapped because, like it said in the article “the pay is great” it is very difficult for people to turn down 200 dollars an hour but as they realize what they are really taking home they begin to reconsider. I also believe that it is the ethical duty of the company to ensure that they are treating their employees with dignity and respect. This cannot be achieved while making employees work ridiculous hours just to ensure that they keep their jobs, and they will have to work more hours as they need to make up for the lost time due to the productivity system. It is also very important to consider how making people work constantly without any kind of break, or at least punishing them for breaks, leads to decreased productivity at a point as employees continue to attempt to look busy instead of effectively doing their work. Especially in a world that is becoming increasingly more focused on efficiency rather than just simply hard work I think this style of management is actually very old school. Prior to the advent of modern technology, the only way to produce a lot of anything was to work long hours, however now companies must adapt and allow their employees to become more effective and ditch the old school ideas of hard work and sweat always being the answer.

  4. Our world today has become very dependent on technology and software systems. Without the technology and machines we use in our everyday lives we, as a society, would essentially become lost. Although our advancement in technology is useful, it should not be dependent upon, especially in the workplace. From my standpoint, it does not seem just to let a software program watch and track my every move to determine how much I get paid. As said in the article, the monitoring software only tracks “active work”. But how can one define active work? Just because an employee is stuck on one screen for a couple of minutes does not mean that they are not actively working. It still requires work to solve math equations or to take handwritten notes on the page that is on your computer. I believe that instead of companies using this clearly flawed system to keep it how it has always been: getting paid from the time you clock in and until the time you clock out. Although the monitoring system is to fix the issue of employees being lazy on the clock, it neglects to benefit the employees that are actually working during their scheduled hours. Not only does it neglect to benefit them, but it is also an invasion of privacy. Having a camera on you the whole time you are working is invasive. Overall, there is no way that a system is going to be able to effectively determine if someone is truly working or not. The only person that will be able to determine how much work was done is the employee who was doing said work. Even though technology is becoming more advanced with every day that passes, some things should stay the same. Because why fix something that is not broken? Of course, there are some flaws with the timecard method, but at least it ensures that employees are getting paid fairly.

  5. I believe that this is not a smart way to pay employees. Like in the case of Carol Kraemer, Many employees who work with computers are doing work that doesn’t involve the software but relates to it, such as calculations or assessments of other documents. I can relate this to my job as a cashier, where there will be points where I am not checking out any customers but I am still working. Although I may not be on the system the do checkouts, I am still cleaning my lane, sorting items within isles or assisting customers in other ways than checkout. This shows that even though I am not on the system, I am still contributing to the store and putting in work to deserve my paycheck. I believe that being paid by the hour, without being monitored by a computer system. Workers may also feel like they’re in a hostile work environment if they are constantly being watched by a computer.

  6. Using Technology for a task that requires accurate results is not always the best idea. It varies for what one wants technology to do. For example, if someone wants something accurate from a math perspective the calculator would be their best bet. But in terms of supervising someone technology doesn’t take into account what is not done right in front of them. Technology and Artificial Intelligence don’t think outside the box it stays inside it’s box and uses what is in front of it. This is why you don’t usually see robots or other forms of technology doing jobs like security. A machine isn’t going to think like a human it’s going to think like a machine. Workers deserve to be paid for their work whether that be online or offline, either way, it is still working that they should be paid for because it is using not only their time but their energy to do all that work that is being put onto them. With this article I start to realize how to much technology can be detrimental to all of us and how it really affects people’s lives. Having a software track how long you are active in order to get paid sounds like a crazy idea when you can just have people report to someone in a higher position to see that they are actually doing work and not slacking off. There is also a flaw in that system because what would define active work. If simply moving the mouse counted as active work a person can easily use a tool online that makes it so that their mouse always moves once in a while so they would be paid from the start to the end of their shift. If it was a real person monitoring people’s performance during work time there would be no flaws because a person can see and recognize when someone is doing work whether it be online or offline. Overall society needs to know where to put technology where it is needed, a person could have easily done this task but since technology is so convenient, they thought it would work for this situation.

  7. The computer operated productivity system exemplifies the growing obsession that the business world now has due to the immense competition that is in every sector. As competition for control over the market grows so will companies’ ability get the most out of their employees either through the use of technology like what is shown in this article or complete replacement of a human employee. From the perspective of the employer, the employee is simply a tool to be used in order to create profit. So, companies will use this type of technology to attempt to lower the wages they need to pay and therefore cut their costs. However, I believe that eventually companies will realize that their human capital is essential to maintaining a successful company. Often people would like to deal with a real human being when they are dealing with a business because it creates a connection with the company that they otherwise would not have dealing with Artificial Intelligence. This need to do business with people instead of a program runs deeper than customers, employees want people to oversee their performance and efficiency. Employees want the ability to explain some set of circumstances that may be the reason for their lack of productivity instead of automatically punished by the artificial intelligence that can’t always take in external factors. I believe that this could become a huge problem for companies as employees may fight for their wages in circumstances where they lacked productivity but for reasons that were out of their control. A big issue with this kind of managing is how some types of work may not be counted within the algorithm that calculates their pay. This would become apparent when an employee does some kind of work that is not directly factored into their job or department and therefore would not be counted by the technology. I see this kind of technology expanding over the next few years but will ultimately run into problems that will lead to its demise.

  8. In today’s world, there is a heavy reliance on technology, technology evolves, and many jobs and places are trying to keep up to only make it easier on themselves and their employees. Also how now humans are being placed by technology, which is seen throughout the article. Employer’s see employees as what makes a business run, the necessary instrument to get the job they need done, done. This idea of using machines instead of the human, Is motivating to many companies, because they can then lower wages and spend less paying someone and have a machine that does it at a minimal cost. I believe that there is nothing like the human interaction and having humans do the job. The way I see it, humans invented the technology that is replacing them, but there is human error and in that there could be technological error as well. I would prefer the help of a person that understands me and what I need then relying on the computer to do it for me. In personal experience, the computer can be wrong, ordering on websites when they have the “find your size quiz” it’s been wrong a few times and I would rather go in store and rely on the employee that’s been trained to help me get something that fits and looks right. There is a lack of human productivity as well as the level of interactions. We only continue to enter an era were we interact less and taking away these situations to speak to people will only push us back. These algorithms that are made to calculate pay can have errors, jobs rely heavily on the fact that everything is done for them with a computer but they don’t factor in how it could be wrong. At my job my pay is calculated and put together. This technology will continue to expand as it makes it efficient on the companies to get paperwork and other things done.

  9. In my opinion, using technology to track labor is not an efficient way to give an employee their salary. Using software to track whether employees are actually doing their work is very risky and can sometimes not correctly track the work that employees are doing. For example, maybe an employee has to write on paper halfway through their work to solve a math problem, and the system does not track it. I find this very unprofessional and extremely agitating for whatever employee is working that shift because they are not getting paid to do their work. I find the case in the article especially agitating because the employee had realized that they were receiving lower paychecks than usual, and that was because of the labor tracker technology. Back in the day, employees would just use a punch card and get paid for all of the hours until they clocked out. I think only paying employees for the individual seconds that they work is highly unreasonable and not fair to those who the system can not track their work. A quote from the article stuck out to me that said “Worse, Ms. Kraemer noticed that the software did not come close to capturing her labor. Offline work — doing math problems on paper, reading printouts, thinking — didn’t register and required approval as “manual time.” In managing the organization’s finances, Ms. Kraemer oversaw more than a dozen people, but mentoring them didn’t always leave a digital impression. If she forgot to turn on her time tracker, she had to appeal to be paid at all.” (New York Times). I find this very annoying to even have to appeal to be paid for your work. This technology is most definitely more expensive and much more complicated than simple old fashioned punch cards. I used to work a job at a hat producing company, where I would stitch designs on hats and they would use a similar method to track my time working. The bad part was that I did not get paid for doing the other work like prepping the hats and picking the designs out on the computer. I then complained to my boss that it was unfair that I was not being paid for these hours and they fixed it. This is a highly unprofessional way of tracking hours in my opinion.

  10. With people being switched to working online more, people are getting comfortable working from home. Some might say too comfortable. Typically when working in an office setting, it was difficult for someone to be off-task doing something they are not supposed to do because there was some sort of management around at all times in person. However, people found ways to work around this and be able to be off-task without getting caught. Now that a lot of people are working virtually, employees are finding ways to be off-task without getting caught. But some companies believe that a workers productivity score is the solution. I find this to be an ineffective way to test to see how productive an employee actually is.

    When an employee is idle on their device, that does not mean that they are being unproductive. If an employee prefers to do math on paper they could be doing that or taking hand-written notes, but something like this would drive down the worker productivity score. If an employee is reading something on their device that could still count as it being idle because they really are not doing much on the device except for scrolling. This also applies to if an employee is reading something that is not on their device such as something that has been printed out on paper. Something else that an employee could be doing that is productive but not on their device is interacting with other people. An employee could be on a phone call with a co-worker or client. A productivity score would incentivize someone to not talk to others and make sure that they are on their working device, and that could potentially cost certain companies money. This applies to many industries with customer service. Being able to interact with customers is what makes certain companies more unique than their competitors. Lastly, making sure that an employee is always using their device means that going to the bathroom might cost that employee money. If an employee goes to the bathroom three or four times during the work day for about 10 minutes each time, that could lower their score. Something like this could create less desirable work if an employee is distracted because they are unable to use the bathroom.?

  11. Employers, from the very origin of the employer-employee relationship, have expected their workers to work as efficiently as possible. When you are an employer, you want to minimize the expenses and maximize the profit. The most efficient way of maximizing profits is to minimize the number of employees that the employer has. If we tried to think as potential employers, we would realize that the more productive the workers are, the fewer workers we would need.

    Advanced technologies have been trying to help employers track and stimulate the productivity of their workers. If 30 years ago, an employee could go on coffee breaks or do any unrelated to work activities as long as the boss wouldn’t see it, today, with the implementation of the newest technologies, it becomes almost impossible to procrastinate at work. There are systems that allow the employer to track employees’ progress and the actual amount of work they have done, which forces the employees to be more productive at work. The hi-tech programs make sure that, every single minute that the employee spends at work, he is working and contributing to the work process.

    However, with the invention of new programs and technologies, there is a question of whether it is moral and fair to implement such technologies or not. The answer is yes and no. There is no doubt that programs that track the amount of actual work time the employee does are very effective. At the same time, many jobs require offline contributions that are not being evaluated. In this case, it is important to balance the power of the program and the employee.

    I believe that programs are efficient in calculating the approximate amount of time that the employee spends on work. However, the pay of an employee cannot solely depend on the program. Similarly to trading which has a variety of indicators that predict price movement, programs that calculate the work time should only be viewed as indicators of the overall productivity of the employee. In conclusion, programs that track employees’ work progress are very effective, as they give the employer an approximate picture of the employee’s work productivity. However, data derived from such programs should not serve as the determining factor of the employee’s pay because there are other factors of employees’ productivity that programs cannot account for.

  12. While reading this New York Times piece, I found it very stressful, as my screen was decorated with numerous colorful pop-ups, which stated in bold, that I was either idling or inactive, providing me with a ‘poor score’. However, while using this simulation, I was not inactive, I was reading and taking notes of the piece, yet my work was disregarded with automated popups which belittled me. I imagine that for workers, both on their feet or at their desks, productivity surveillance technology takes an unnecessary toll on their mental health, as it piles on top of the already immense workload they have. Beyond this, the pandemic highlighted for both children and adults alike, remote work is challenging. It was clear that home environments were not always great for working, as there are numerous distractions and other disruptions such as pets or children who were also remote. Subjecting workers to this inaccurate technology, and utilizing its data to calculate an individual’s pay, is quite absurd. Thousands of individuals across numerous fields are not being fairly compensated, and due to such, employers cannot be surprised by the mass ‘quiet quitting’ that has occurred throughout the past year. Instead, such technologies designed to document productivity should be used towards addressing certain issues within the workplace. The technology should only be employed upon workers who fail to meet monthly or yearly goals by substantial margins, or who are on probation. By employing these services for these specific circumstances employers and HR will have little issue identifying areas of concern such as phone usage, video games, or other distractions. In this manner, the technology is serving its purpose without unjustly deteriorating a worker’s pay. Lastly, from reading this piece I also noticed the writer’s comment on how this issue has existed for quite some time, specifically within lower-paying jobs, or civil-servant and trade jobs. As a child of a civil servant, I find it interesting that such an unjust practice is only now gaining traction and distaste within the media and general public, as the issue is being faced by white-collar, highly educated individuals. While I do hope for change, I also hope the change finds itself across all industries and workplaces, that it does not remain a burden upon low-income or trade workers as well, as they also deserve the respect and fair wages they work very hard for.

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