Modern Times

Maybe 15 years ago, Harper’s did one of their “annotations” of documents on a piece of paper from an airline reservation call center. New at the time, it was an analysis of a particular employee’s week done down to the second by a computer system that tracks what the employee is doing at any particular time. Not only did the machine know whether she was speaking to a customer, and for how long, but she was also required to hit various buttons when she was doing paperwork, taking a lunch break, taking a personal break, or going to the restroom.

The document also had the manager’s notes to the employee, since the analysis is given back to the call center person with various exhortations on it intended to improve productivity. Employees are told to reduce their call time, and are disciplined if they work the wrong hours or take too many breaks. Especially bad was the annotation on the bathroom time, which was three or four minutes per day too much. The manager had scrawled on it something like “Let’s keep this in bounds. Remember, you have control!”

I had forgotten about this completely until last night, when I found out that at friendly_bandit’s customer service job, they had the latest version of this system. His boss noted that instead of the allowed 10 minutes of bathroom time, he had 10 minutes and 37 seconds of bathroom time.

He was told to fix that. You know, shave off that 37 seconds. This despite the fact that his breaks are shorter and his work times are longer and his clients write letters to the company praising him for his personable and efficient manner and the excellent job he does on their insurance contracts.

And we wonder why there’s a workplace violence problem?

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