Quotas are not new. In the United States, Frederick Taylor introduced “scientific management” into manufacturing in the late nineteenth century, in many ways laying the groundwork for modern-day people analytics in manufacturing and logistics.  Taylor was controversial in his day, and the controversy continues with good reason. With better technology, companies are able to take people analytics to the next level through automated, real-time tracking and data analytics systems designed to optimize employee productivity.
These approaches can be powerful, but what are the human costs?
Like many companies, Amazon has long tracked the productivity of its warehouse employees, but the company has faced increasing criticism for taking these systems too far. Two years ago, Amazon patented wristbands that can track and guide employees’ motions through the use of sensors and haptics.  Additionally, Amazon has implemented a system that tracks employees’ productivity and “time on task” and automatically generates warnings when targets are not met. If the employee continues to miss targets, the system automatically generates termination paperwork and notifies a manager. Amazon states that managers have the final say in whether to terminate the employee, but productivity records suggest that workers are routinely let go based on productivity issues highlighted by their tracking system. 
While some might argue that such technology could help Amazon promote worker safety (by correcting dangerous motions) and aid workers in achieving reasonable productivity by guiding them during their work, I believe that the system crosses several lines.
Privacy: First, employees feel like they are being watched at all times. They cannot ever slow down, out of fear of being dinged for time off task. While employers certainly have a right to track employee productivity and ensure that standards are met, tracking employees at all times with such a punitive system in place creates a culture of fear that drives high turnover and workplace accidents, not to mention an overall miserable experience for employees. Ultimately such practices will hurt productivity due to employee turnover and low morale.
Transparency: These tracking systems are also not transparent, which makes them different from sales quotas and similar incentive systems. Workers have little information about the algorithms and managerial decisions that determine the quotas. Amazon has every incentive to speed up work, and partly due to the culture of fear, employees have no reason to trust that the standards have been fairly established with worker well-being in mind.
Respect: Last, and worst of all, the system dehumanizes management. Amazon warehouse employees have often been quoted saying they feel that Amazon treats them like robots, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Automating warnings and termination paperwork disincentives managers from engaging with their team as people and providing adequate support or training. In other contexts, managers are able to consider personal and circumstantial context when determining whether to give an employee a warning or terminate them. For example, is this person dealing with a difficult issue at home? Was there a particular challenge facing the team? Automating this judgment may seem more objective, but it does not account for the many other factors that go into the productivity of a worker besides his or her competence and work ethic.
How could Amazon use this data to achieve better results, while respecting employees?
Tracking data could be anonymized and reviewed by managers at a warehouse or team level, giving managers incentives to engage with employees and understand what is and is not working. Amazon could also use the anonymized data to experiment with different layouts, collaboration techniques, and communication systems. Outcomes could be tied to upside, rather than termination. Most importantly, feedback could be delivered in a human way, and terminations should be managed by humans and not computers.
 For a good background on Taylor, see the HBS case on his work. This case is taught as part of The Coming of Managerial Capitalism: Thomas McCraw, “Mass Production and the Beginnings of Scientific Management, Harvard Business School, June 20, 1991, https://store.hbr.org/product/mass-production-and-the-beginnings-of-scientific-management/391255.
 Julie Bort, “Amazon’s warehouse-worker tracking system can automatically pick people to fire without a human supervisor’s involvement,” Business Insider, April 25, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-system-automatically-fires-warehouse-workers-time-off-task-2019-4.
Colin Leacher, “How Amazon automatically tracks and fires warehouse workers for ‘productivity’,” The Verge, April 25, 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/25/18516004/amazon-warehouse-fulfillment-centers-productivity-firing-terminations.
 Will Evans, “Ruthless Quotas at Amazon Are Maiming Employees,” The Atlantic, December 5, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/11/amazon-warehouse-reports-show-worker-injuries/602530/.