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If the world is engaged in stalker-culture, it’s because companies started it.

At first, your organization was slow to embrace the internet. If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. If you had to have a computer, they sure as hell weren’t gonna let you shop on Zappos or check out your friends on Myspace.

But a funny thing happened on the way to late-stage capitalism …

Once businesses understood the power of the web to merge power and surveil its workforce, they encouraged everybody to hop on the internet and even bring their own devices to work.

We all know companies watch what you do; however, many employees and contractors don’t understand the depths. Legal, finance, IT, and HR can easily map the intricacies of your whole life into one large pivot table for cynical business folk to manipulate. Does it violate the law? Yes, no, maybe, who cares. Depends on where the corporation resides, where the worker sits, what legal precedent if any has been set, and the ruthless calculation of the cost of doing business.

Examples?  

You might come to work on Monday morning, open your laptop, grab a cup of coffee, read your email on your computer, check the New York Times on your tablet and book a flight on your phone. Some of that online behavior is monitored through apps and programs on your company’s IT equipment; your company may hook your badge up to a software that connects with cameras in the office and monitors your whereabouts and to analyze how work gets done; and, if you log onto your organization’s wifi with your own devices, you consent to be monitored and tracked.

Is that a big deal? Well, maybe.

What you don’t know is that all of this data can be collected and analyzed using natural language processing and sentiment analysis to understand if these are predictable patterns of behavior, if you’re about to leave the organization, if you’re depressed and about to commit suicide, if you are a candidate for financial wellness programs based on your internet shopping, or if you’re swinging by Janet’s workspace every morning — just like she complained to HR — and harassing her.

And we’re just getting started.

How many times a day do you use the toilet? For how long? Where do you go after you pee? What sites do you visit after lunch? Where do you go when you block off “creative time” on your schedule? Does your calendar match your physical location or are you blocking time off to nap in the lactation room? Are you sharing files on Slack to foster inter-departmental collegiality or are you trying to sabotage a project? Where do you go for lunch? Who’s going with you? Are the two of you leaving for lunch together? Are you having an affair and putting the company at risk? Are you giving away corporate secrets to competitors? Did you take this job for the intended reasons you stated in the interview? Are you only working there to bump up your salary and rebound to your prior employer? Does your criminal history match what you shared? What about your ongoing activities — are you employed at this job while running a small cannabis ring from your house?

Some of this data needs to be reverse-engineered when there’s an HR complaint, but that’s so very 2015. Much of this data can be collected and analyzed in real-time by sophisticated technology and third-party vendors who monitor a spectrum of activities to ensure that you’re not a risk to the organization by lying, cheating, stealing, leaving too soon after being hired, giving away company secrets, getting too fat, harassing your colleagues, or, honestly, being depressed enough to bring a gun to work.

UR being watched.

Stalker-culture exists because we’ve fetishized work as the ultimate form of purpose and given over our lives to corporate overlords — founders, C-level executives, business consultants — who don’t fetishize work and have second and third homes in tax-free locations throughout the United States and find meaning and faith in accumulated interest and capital gains earnings and not “growth opportunities” or “feedback from colleagues.”

So, what can you do if you don’t want to be surveilled by your employer?

• First, understand the depths of the surveillance. Find a friend in IT, risk management, finance or even HR and ask good questions. Go back and read your employment agreement.

• Think about where you sit on the corporate hierarchy and get promoted. Just because we live in a stalker-culture in 2019 doesn’t mean you can’t change things.

• Go work in HR. The one department that might fix all of this is often staffed with people who don’t know, don’t care, or don’t understand what’s going on in the enterprise. There’s no more significant opportunity to fix work than to work — and get promoted — in HR.

The answer is not to work for yourself. Running away from a problem never solved anything, and, also, the problem still follows you. While there’s less monitoring of your activity as a small business owner, you still abdicate many of your rights and freedoms while working with corporate clients.

We fix work by fixing ourselves. Get smart, get educated, and get promoted. There’s no cavalry coming to solve these problems. Want to change the way corporations act? It starts with you.

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