The article made me realize that the military setting could actually be very suitable for developing new people analytics practices, as well as for establishing rules/frameworks around fair data usage and privacy.
On the innovation side, there is potential to create and improve models that could eventually be adapted to the private setting. Performance inputs and outputs are relatively standardized, while operational processes are well structured. Furthermore, the inherent hierarchy and organizational structure is an ideal setting to study and understand interpersonal networks and group dynamics.
The advantages from a governance perspective come from the inherent rigor and discipline of military organizations. Any kind of data is handled with care, outside vendors are strictly vetted, and changes in processes are codified and documented in great detail. Furthermore, as most military personnel are expected to (and accept to) be serving the organization beyond typical private sector working hours, there is less controversy in personal data collection, with the assumption that are used to improve overall outcomes – rather than being profit oriented.
There are many ethical arguments to be made against Amazon’s increased surveillance practices, yet one less-discussed issue is an economic one; where, rather than sharing the economic value generated by these programs with employees, the company itself captures all of it.
Every job has a certain gap between the optimal and actual productivity levels. After all, we are all human; and it’s only normal to have an occasional bad day or take a slightly longer break at work. With increased surveillance and rules built around them, Amazon aims to standardize employee performance by creating a risk of job termination, effectively aiming to remove the few seconds workers take to recollect their thoughts, the extra bathroom break taken on a given day, and many similar variations in worker behavior.
The result is that workers significantly increase their mental and physical workload, experience more stress, and on average work harder than they would have otherwise. However, the credit for this increase in harder work is taken by the company itself. Employees are not getting salary increases for working harder, nor receive additional paid vacations for finishing tasks earlier than they would before these rules came into play. They are just assumed to “finally” start performing at the level that their job description asks them to perform at.
This is very problematic and will only cause further tensions between the company and its workers – particularly in the US, where worker protection laws are less robust and the ability of workers to act collectively through unionization is highly politicized and controversial.
I fully agree that initiatives like this one have the potential to do more harm to employee well-being than the benefit they create – even with the best intentions.
Tracking and rewarding good sleep habits seems like an innocent initiative; yet without understanding potential externalities and the workplace social dynamics that could be impacted, it would be dangerous to collect and openly publish personal data.
To add to your points, having employees voluntarily give away sensitive data could become a slippery slope that could, in the future, “justify” more questionable practices around tracking employees both during and outside of the workplace, without their knowledge.
In addition, the Covid pandemic has created a significant blur between people’s personal and professional lives, creating an “always on” culture for many workplaces. Initiatives like these have the potential to further exacerbate this phenomenon, and the issues arising from it.