Labor Day has its origins in the struggle for worker rights over 140 years ago. We have come a long way from 12-hour days, 7-day workweeks and children working in mines. We should all be thankful for this progress.
There have been many chapters in this great effort. For many in the United States the struggle to improve workplace conditions, pay and benefits continues. Today the effort is being led by hourly workers who receive little reward for their toil in repetitive, unengaging jobs.
Their attempts to band together and demand for a living wage are being fought by the companies behind well-known brands. Brands many of us support daily. Though not the traditional strongarm tactics, these corporations still use extreme measures. Digital surveillance, closing locations and selective firing are used to thwart employees’ attempts to organize.
Firing and closing locations have immediate effects. The people impacted are living paycheck to paycheck. Their lives go into a tailspin as they seek another job. My Dad overcame polio and once told me that firing a person, regardless of cause, was the hardest thing he ever had to do. I wonder if anyone at these companies feels similarly.
Though the effects are less immediate, workplace surveillance has a broader and deeper reach. It’s now common for your online and phone behavior to be monitored by software lurking behind the scenes. What the software “sees” is often translated into metrics that tie to your performance evaluation and compensation.
There is good evidence employee surveillance has more downside than upside for companies and managers. The resulting mistrust, lack of agency and workplace culture erosion slices into employee effectiveness and retention. Focusing upon outcomes and metrics tied to outcomes is a better approach.
It matters beyond the corporation as well. The lines are blurry between our work and private lives. What we accept in our work lives carries over. The more we accept employers surveilling us, the more we tolerate surveillance outside of work. Where employee rights tread, our rights overall follow. On Labor Day, if you are fortunate enough to have the day off, be thankful for the worker rights you have. Also, consider reflecting on the labor you invest, who you invest it for and the money you spend. Ideally, they advance the person you aspire to be and the world you want to be a part of.