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(Over-)Measuring the Working Man 165

HughPickens.com writes: Tyler Cowen writes in MIT Technology Review that the improved measurement of worker performance through information technology is beginning to allow employers to measure value fairly precisely and as we get better at measuring who produces what, the pay gap between those who make more and those who make less grows. Insofar as workers type at a computer, everything they do is logged, recorded, and measured. Surveillance of workers continues to increase, and statistical analysis of large data sets makes it increasingly easy to evaluate individual productivity, even if the employer has a fairly noisy data set about what is going on in the workplace. Consider journalism. In the "good old days," no one knew how many people were reading an article, or an individual columnist. Today a digital media company knows exactly how many people are reading which articles for how long, and also whether they click through to other links. The result is that many journalists turn out to be not so valuable at all. Their wages fall or they lose their jobs, while the superstar journalists attract more Web traffic and become their own global brands.

According to Cowen, the upside is that measuring value tends to boost productivity, as has been the case since the very beginning of management science. We're simply able to do it much better now, and so employers can assign the most productive workers to the most suitable tasks. The downsides are several. Individuals don't in fact enjoy being evaluated all the time, especially when the results are not always stellar: for most people, one piece of negative feedback outweighs five pieces of positive feedback.
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(Over-)Measuring the Working Man

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Instead of using technology to reduce working hours and "trickling down" benefits to everyone, we use it for things like this!

    • Instead of using technology to reduce working hours and "trickling down" benefits to everyone, we use it for things like this!

      Indeed. And with a 65% workforce participation rate. Just one more indication (as if we needed another) that the current system serves owners, not labor.

      • Back in the old days in Turkey oh I'd say in the 70s, bossman would pull up a small chair, get his news paper and watch all his employees as they worked, loudly sipping his tea. As soon as he looked away employees would try to rest, nobody trusted the bossman back then, they just trusted each other. I'm glad we're over such sweatshop treatment of the all watchful eye.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Basing the productivity on pure numbers is not really that telling.
    Example: Donald Trump has the best numbers currently... does that mean he will be the best president?

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      Point taken on that, although I'd point out that in a democracy, sometimes having the best numbers also contributes substantially to you being a good president. This is because you have the popularity to get things done that need to get done in spite of opposition.

      That doesn't mean someone like Trump will make good use of that sort of popularity, but it does mean that you could put a genius in the Presidency, but if he's unpopular, he'll find he can't get anything done and be remembered as mediocre at best

      • but it does mean that you could put a genius in the Presidency, but if he's unpopular, he'll find he can't get anything done and be remembered as mediocre at best.

        Sadly....we never have and likely never WILL have any genius types running for president, as that they're too smart to get caught up and mess with all the BS that is politics....

  • Clickbait wins (Score:5, Insightful)

    by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @09:52AM (#50619447)
    This metric would seem to be encouraging authors that write the clickbaitiest titles. Sounds wonderful.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Exactly. Journalism now is essentially just entertainment. If you watch CNN or Fox you will see what I mean. The focus is on generating controversy by focusing on things that really don't matter in the big picture, but are incendiary.

      • And yes I know what literally means. Fox News was called on their overwhelming right wing bias and successfully argued before a judge that the were an entertainment network and so laws governing equal time didn't apply.
    • Re:Clickbait wins (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @10:10AM (#50619551) Homepage Journal

      This metric would seem to be encouraging authors that write the clickbaitiest titles. Sounds wonderful.

      Cowen's assumption is that the things that are easy to measure are also meaningful and contribute to the organizations' success. In journalism, that's not usually true.

      I once worked for a weekly newspaper in Brooklyn. The publisher had more (family) money than brains. The paper was doing badly and he was getting desperate.

      One week, we ran a British-style tabloid headline, "4-year-old girl raped, murdered." It had the highest newsstand circulation of any issue.

      This was followed by a wave of angry subscription cancellations. One subscriber wrote, "I don't want this garbage coming into my house."

      The paper continued on its downward trend and finally shut down.

      The moral: following a meaningless metric can give you a boost in the short term, and harm the enterprise in the long term.

      Like VW's emission test results....

      • Re:Clickbait wins (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @11:48AM (#50620229)

        Indeed. Metrics are very tricky. Applied wrongly (the standard case) they harm you a lot. Also, in many cases, "productivity" is not what it seems to be, unless you are a mindless factory worker that only produces more or fewer of a specific part and quality is not a concern. For example, I have made brief remarks in meetings that ended up preventing massive losses to customers. How do you measure that? Right, you cannot.

        • Re:Clickbait wins (Score:5, Insightful)

          by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot @ w o r f .net> on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @01:02PM (#50620707)

          Indeed. Metrics are very tricky. Applied wrongly (the standard case) they harm you a lot. Also, in many cases, "productivity" is not what it seems to be, unless you are a mindless factory worker that only produces more or fewer of a specific part and quality is not a concern. For example, I have made brief remarks in meetings that ended up preventing massive losses to customers. How do you measure that? Right, you cannot.

          The problem with metrics is, well, you get what you measure.

          And for a lot of metrics, what you measure is not what you're wanting to measure, because what you want to measure is vague and not easily measureable. E.g., productivity is not something you can measure. You can't take two people and easily say that one is more productive than the other.

          And there are other metrics you CAN measure directly, but the cause and effect are so far removed from the people that it's impossible to actually determine who contributed. E.g., savings. Sure you can say the company saved $100,000 this quarter, but which employee did the most?

          And even then, there are hidden consequences.

          As I said above, you get what you measure. If you measure savings, you will get savings. But you may also have to deal with the consequences of it - perhaps regular maintenance becomes irregular and you're setting yourself up for a catastrophic failure in a couple of years. But since you'll have 8 quarters of meeting the metric, it doesn't matter if the failure costs more than what was saved. Or you'll find people will struggle with obsolete equipment way beyond its replacement date to make the numbers come in lower.

          Likewise, if you try to measure productivity, people will make the measurement. If you measure keystrokes, yes, you'll find keystrokes increase. But that might mean "space" and "backspace" are the most popular keys.

          If you measure lines of code, you'll find a lot of copy-pasta coding.

          And so on - you will get what you measure. You will not get what you don't measure. And the weaker the relationship between what you REALLY want to measure and the proxy you're using, the more useless the measure is.

      • Like VW's emission test results....

        Well, one man's trash, as they say. I'm hoping to pick up a gently used VW diesel for cheap very soon.

      • The moral: following a meaningless metric can give you a boost in the short term, and harm the enterprise in the long term.

        I'd say there are a couple "morals" to be learned from you example.

        Another one is that loyal customers can be important in many businesses.

        I know it's a bit crazy to say that today, in an era when most people seem to switch at a moment's notice -- whether that's switching brands or jobs or relationships or careers or whatever.

        But the reality is that many traditional business models were kept afloat by traditional customer loyalty. Do I go and buy the cheapest meal in town? The restaurant that sells

    • Yellow Journalism [wikipedia.org] is as old as journalism itself. One of my favorite examples of it was in Dan Rather's autobiography where he describes his early years in local TV reporting; when the day's news was boring they tossed in a "fuzz and wuz" story - police racing to the scene to the crime (the fuzz) and the body laying on the sidewalk (the wuz). The internet hasn't changed anything there.
      • The internet hasn't changed anything there.

        Sure it has: I can get my fuzz and wuz for free there. So if all you have to offer is scandals, propaganda and yesterday's news, you have nothing worth paying for.

    • This metric would seem to be encouraging authors that write the clickbaitiest titles. Sounds wonderful.

      Thankfully that could never happen here.

  • So we need more cunts a few layers up digging through 'big data' in order to lower the wages of the grunts actually putting out product.

    Boo.

    I cannot wait until this tech is spoofed into oblivion.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      And that is the other thing the metrics-fanatics overlook consistently: Most metrics are easy to spoof. Quite often it does not even require smart people to do it. At the same time, application of metrics significantly lowers loyalty, as people rightfully perceive themselves to be seen as "just a number". So unless the metrics bring massive increases in productivity, using them is already a losers game.

  • Data? Statistics? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @09:56AM (#50619473)

    Now wait a second. Management, generally speaking, doesn't understand data. They like to look at a nice Powerpoint slide with people ranked from best to worst. this means that all measures taken relative to workers' productivity get aggregated/coalesced into one, which will most likely be skewed because the aggregation algorithm would never take all variables into consideration.
    Management won't look at 15 metrics per worker and try to understand the data; they want one value and that's it. Not good.

    Consider journalism. You have Worker A and Worker B. You give A an assignment about work effectiveness evolution through history, and B gets to write about Kim Kardashian's choice of panties colors. A writes a 5000 word article, well documented, with references and shit, with a serious title. B writes a 300 word article filled with generic panties pictures with a clickbait title. A gets 300 views, B gets 5 million views. The algorithm generates a value based on efficiency and ROI, and A gets a score of 5/100 while B gets a score of 100/100. You look at the values, fire A and promote B.

    Now you know why most articles out there are about Kim Kardashian and panties. Incidentally, you know why automatically measuring productivity can go tits up very quickly.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      That's a bit simplistic. If the target audience is statistical management types those 300 views could translate to more value for the publication than an article about panties, but it depends on the publication, which is why you don't usually see in-depth scholalry research in the red tops. The red tops and clickbaiters also make much more money than most academic publications but that's their entire purpose. Once the metrics are calibrated correctly quality can indeed be measured and used to improve a publ

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      If you life off is selling ad impressions, it sounds like the system works perfectly. The goal of a for-profit company is never to deliver you a product or service, that is only a means to an end.

      • If you life off is selling ad impressions, it sounds like the system works perfectly. The goal of a for-profit company is never to deliver you a product or service, that is only a means to an end.

        That gets to the heart of the problem, actually.

    • by Moloth ( 2793915 )

      I agree with you. From a business point of view Worker B had 1000 moron viewers who clicked on the bait then the ads and generated more money than Worker A's smarter viewers and only clicked on 10 ads. Worker B made more money with less time so he is promoted and this is why we see click bait content everywhere simply because it is more profitable. I like most others here find it awful but this is what the net has become (internet 2 - the search for more money). At least we can recognise click bait and avo

    • "Data-driven decision-making" being all the rage, corporate management asks IT for "metrics" with little or no understanding of how to interpret them. Thus the need for statistically-savvy staff who can interpret the data for management, usually in the form of brightly colored charts and graphs. Which leads me to wonder, where the actual power is in this "data-driven decision-making" process?

    • Yeah, but don't doubt for an instant some harebrained MBA type won't champion this as some new paradigm for worker relations (*cough*), which will be lauded by upper management as it effectively washes their hands from, you know, doing their damn job and supervising their employees' work, not to mention any process like this will be gamed by any employee with modicum of disdain.

      And this is particularly damning in instances where strict compliance and careful execution is of utmost importance. Do you really

  • by kschendel ( 644489 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @09:56AM (#50619475) Homepage

    Sounds like a regurgitation of Taylorism and time-and-motion studies, for the digital worker. Will people never learn? You get what you measure, and if you aren't extremely careful, you'll cause dysfunction because the measurement goal isn't aligned with the organizational goal. (It always looks like it should be, but it rarely is.)

    In any case there's nothing new here, just another well-meaning nitwit looking for the magic bullet.

    • Really what we need is feedback. If you gave every employee access to data providing constant and immediate feedback, they would improve by repeating methods which produce the best outcomes. The best steel, the fastest vehicle assembly, the greatest upsell, the happiest customer, the most ad revenue. Combine that with sharing your techniques and knowledge, and you have the growth of technology as a science.

    • It's even worse than that, because workers aren't stupid and they will attempt to make their metrics look good whether or not that produces any actual value. It's a kind of madness where so long as whatever numbers we have decided should look good, we'll believe things are actually good even if the metrics are unreasonable or simply fabrications (see the VW fiasco).

      It's not just companies that do this either. It also occurs in police forces where there's a pressure to have good numbers so cops misreport [nbcnewyork.com]
    • Oblig: I'm going to go code myself a new minivan
  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @10:01AM (#50619507) Journal

    statistical analysis of large data sets makes it increasingly easy to evaluate individual productivity, even if the employer has a fairly noisy data set about what is going on in the workplace.

    This is only true if you know what to measure. Otherwise you are measuring activity. For example one programmer may type out lots of quick lines to empirically discover the format of a string a library returns for a given inputs, another might go directly to the documentation. One will press more keys, but which is more productive? I don't think you can always expect the correct answer if the statistic you use is average key presses per hour.

    If someones job is to paint unpainted widgets in bin A and paint them and put them in bin B, that we can pretty accurately measure their productivity by determine how many widgets are in bin B each day and comparing them with others who do the same work, or can we? What about the defect rate? Measuring is hard, knowing what to measure is harder.

    How do measure the productivity of a corporate staff attorney? What about route / switch admin? Is one who puts in more change requests more productive or does that just mean (s)he fails to plan ahead?

    Be careful what you measure you will probably get favorable results, but its the side effects that will hurt you.

    • by bigpat ( 158134 )

      If someones job is to paint unpainted widgets in bin A and paint them and put them in bin B, that we can pretty accurately measure their productivity by determine how many widgets are in bin B each day and comparing them with others who do the same work, or can we? What about the defect rate?

      I've seen this work out (or not) first hand. You can't just pay (or evaluate performance) on one metric. But usually you can figure out some formula that can measure performance. Lines of code is never the metric in software (actually it is the opposite as software that has more lines per unit of functionality is slower). That is like paying your house builder based on the number of nails they hammer or the amount of wood they use. Neither is the number of unique graphics generated in graphic design a

      • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @10:31AM (#50619703) Homepage Journal

        You have to know your product and what makes for a quality product and tailor your production process to that.

        The cult of management says that a good manager can manage anything -- and doesn't even have to understand the product. So the top manager of a potato chip company can move in and run a computer chip company.

        Or the top manager of a computer company can reform the education system.

        • by bigpat ( 158134 )

          The cult of management says that a good manager can manage anything -- and doesn't even have to understand the product. So the top manager of a potato chip company can move in and run a computer chip company.

          Or the top manager of a computer company can reform the education system.

          For a well established company where a manager is there to just keep things going the way they are going, then the warm body manager mentality is probably a correct assessment. In that case, management doesn't need to know the product, they just keep things going the way they are going. There are many such niche products where there is pretty much one way of doing things and you don't need to change what you are doing. Of course then managers tend to assess performance based on irrelevant things since they don't know what is relevant. Best to simply give everyone the same cost of living increases at that point and only penalize glaringly bad performance.

          If you need process improvement, innovation, a company that can adapt to a changing market conditions then you need everyone from the top down to understand the products they are making and the people they are selling to and ignorance by anyone in that chain is a serious weakness.

      • I heard someone propose that software engineers in an Agile environment could be measured by "number of user stories marked finished AND accepted by testers", on the assumption that the software engineers were not allowed to write the user stories in the first place. It's an approach that seems questionable to me, but it was the first proposal I'd heard that seemed tied to the results of the programming instead of to the activity of the programming (i.e. you would be rewarded for finishing a user story in l

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @11:20AM (#50620053)
          That's a step in the right direction, but it still doesn't measure quality very much. Design of the code is also very important. How easy is the code to maintain, extend, refactor, re-use? Does it interact in negative ways with other code? What happens when you push it to its limits? What scaling does it have? What are its failure cases and how does it handle them? How intuitive is the code? Is it written in a way that makes it difficult to use it incorrectly while being simple to use correctly or in new ways that could also be correct?
        • 'User story' is just agile for bug? They have Dilbert strips about that.

          I'm going to code me a new mini-van...

    • by Khomar ( 529552 )

      It also removes some of the intangible elements of human interaction. Someone may not be as "productive" directly, but they are very good at helping others get their jobs done more effectively -- either through mentoring, improving morale, etc. When we start putting numbers on people instead of thinking of them as actual people with personalities, we lose the real value of the person and interactions of a team. Metrics can be helpful, but they must be kept in context.

      • by chooks ( 71012 )

        Where I am at you get points (with bonus $$$ allocated on a per-point basis) for being "a good citizen" -- e.g. organizing material for collaboration, putting a subject-based website together, etc.... In general, they are things that don't have a direct correspondence with a particular "mission goal" (or part of your job description) but it helps everyone do their work better/stronger/faster.

  • the pay gap between those who make more and those who make less grows

    That line clearly comes from someone supporting the insane wages of top executives in this country under the illusion that they are actually productive. They rarely make anything in terms of actual productivity - they are paid a lot primarily in reward for being well-connected.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I took the opposite message from the TFSummary, although maybe that's my reading and not the author questioning the tactic.

      It will happen, because management believes these are the more valuable employees and will pay them more and will devalue other employees and pay them less -- probably sneaking in an overall net pay cut while they're at it, since they can pay the devalued employees less than they increase the pay of valued employees.

      My assumption is that this would ultimately backfire because they would

      • by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @12:10PM (#50620367)

        Not to mention the relentless gaming of any measurement system by all parties that erodes whatever value it might have.

        I have an illustrative anecdote:

        A company that I used to worked for, decided to have a bug fixing contest. They decided that they would pay a bonus to their software developers for every bug they fixed so they could lower the defect rate on their software. At first the project seemed to be a roaring success, the number of fixed bugs climbed quickly, however, the budget for the bonuses ran out only a few weeks after the contest started. An examination of the payouts quickly raised suspicion among some of the managers running it. The numbers showed that some of the testers were finding more than 10 times the number of bugs that they used to find, while others were finding the exact same number. It didn't make sense because they weren't paying any bonuses to the testers. A short investigation revealed that some of the developers were deliberately including bugs in the code before they released their work to testing, some went so far as to tell their selected tester what and where the bug was, and then splitting the bug bounty with the tester who sent the bug back to them to fix. Of course, the developers and testers who were caught collaborating were all fired. However, the fake bug fixing displaced real testing work, and fewer real bugs were fixed during the contest, and the company had to recruit new people to replace the people they fired, so the defect rate went up because normal testing was displaced, some of the deliberate bugs actually made it through testing, and the new developers and new testers who replaced the people fired were not as familiar with the product and more problems slipped through while they were settling in to their new duties.

        The moral, is that when money is involved it will not take long for people to figure out how to game the system, and quite possibly achieve the exact opposite of what they were supposed to being doing.

        • You overlooked the likely impact to morale. If the guy in the next desk makes more money than I do because he's deliberately doing his job badly, that makes me care less about doing my job well. It also means that I'm likely to pay less attention to getting things right, because not getting things right is the way to extra money. Developers are smart (if not necessarily wise), and will pick up on these things.

          Also, canceling a bonus program early because of bad actors isn't going to help the morale of

    • by nbauman ( 624611 )

      the pay gap between those who make more and those who make less grows

      That line clearly comes from someone supporting the insane wages of top executives in this country under the illusion that they are actually productive. They rarely make anything in terms of actual productivity - they are paid a lot primarily in reward for being well-connected.

      There is an entire publishing industry devoted to fawning over highly-compensated top executives and telling them that they are the geniuses who are responsible for all of America's accomplishments and can solve any problem.

  • So they've figured out how to measure how well something works. This is fine for products where the outcome can be measured with natural numbers. What about products where they can have negative value even when they do work? If I improperly write code that works well when it works, but fails in unknown ways, then my product has a negative value when compared to another product the solves the same problems, but in a way where it fails in predictable ways and can be quickly fixed.
    • by nbauman ( 624611 )

      So they've figured out how to measure how well something works. This is fine for products where the outcome can be measured with natural numbers. What about products where they can have negative value even when they do work? If I improperly write code that works well when it works, but fails in unknown ways, then my product has a negative value when compared to another product the solves the same problems, but in a way where it fails in predictable ways and can be quickly fixed.

      What if you're a cop and you arrest a lot of people for jaywalking? That's what happened when New York City went over to Comstat.

      • What if you're a cop and you arrest a lot of people for jaywalking?

        Then you come to the realization that some of your laws are written stupidly. Any law we wouldn't want 100% enforcement of needs to be re-written or gotten rid of.

  • hope they're looking at the right metrics.
    The SNAFU principle reigns supreme here.
  • by Coisiche ( 2000870 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @10:20AM (#50619641)

    A similar assessment of CEOs and other board positions.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @10:31AM (#50619709)

    ... between my typing in the IDE and the Slashdot comments section? Because I may very well be the most productive worker our company has.

  • Flawed Assumption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oh_my_080980980 ( 773867 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @10:37AM (#50619747)
    "But there’s another fundamental driver of income inequality: the improved measurement of worker performance. As we get better at measuring who produces what, the pay gap between those who make more and those who make less grows."

    This assumes people who produce more get paid more. This has not been the case for the past 30 years. That's why there is an income inequality. Wages have not kept pace with Productivity. So the issue has nothing to do with measuring productivity. This has to do with companies keeping worker pay low in order to increase dividends and CEO pay, which is a consequence of lower rates. If companies had to reinvest in the company, worker pay would keep pace with productivity.
    • You (and almost everyone here) miss the point. If you have a budget for a new TV, and find one that meets your requirements at a store for MSRP, but also find out they have it down the street for 20% off, would you still pay full price because that's "fair?" The company isn't going to pay you any more than they have to. If they can hire three cheap employees who each do 80% the work of two highly paid employees for the same total cost, they will. It doesn't matter how much value they bring to the compan
      • If the company has no loyalty to the workers, the workers will have no loyalty to the company. They'll fake it, because it's expected, but if the company ever needs something extra it won't get it.

  • by m00sh ( 2538182 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @10:38AM (#50619759)

    Slashdot moderation system used to measure us as a total of karma over all posts to measure the contribution to Slashdot.

    Slashdot had to stop using those because of karma whores.

    Even meaningless numbers are a strong motivators to cheat a system. You have to be very careful about what you do. Improving those metrics will triumph over quality and ethics.

    • Slashdot moderation system used to measure us as a total of karma over all posts to measure the contribution to Slashdot.

      Slashdot had to stop using those because of karma whores.

      Even meaningless numbers are a strong motivators to cheat a system. You have to be very careful about what you do. Improving those metrics will triumph over quality and ethics.

      They still have the total score, they just don't display it. It is still used to determine your starting post score as well as factoring in how frequently you get mod points (and how many you get).

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        Yeah, but they capped max karma and switched from numeric to textual description.

        I've had "Karma: Excellent" for well over a decade. Fuck knows how close to the cap I am, or whether I've ever been modded down enough to risk dropping to 'Good' or whatever comes next.

  • Reminds of an story about car mechanics.

    Maybe it was Sears or it was some other chain store. They decided to measure the value of the mechanics by the dollar value of the business they brought to the company.

    All that ended up doing was making the mechanics cheat customers by asking them for extra repairs.

    Same thing with the Detroit police department. They used homicide rate as a measure of effectiveness. The police started to classify homicides as suicides and accidents to make the metric look better.

    • Same thing with the Detroit police department. They used homicide rate as a measure of effectiveness. The police started to classify homicides as suicides and accidents to make the metric look better.

      I thought you were going to say they had a target, and if they didn't reach it they'd go out and shoot a couple of random passers by.

  • by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @10:59AM (#50619917)

    Case in point.

    I can spend the time to manually type in a few hundred lines of configuration data for a Router / Switch for every device I manage.

    or

    I can spend the time to build an app or program that will effectively build the same configuration for me, guaranteed error free. I need
    only change the unique data for the site which can be done prior to the program launching.

    So, if my employer is tracking how much I type or how many windows I click on in a day*, which of the two above scenarios is the more
    efficient methods of getting a job done ? Because I didn't sit for three days straight and manually configure these systems, then I'm not
    as productive ?

    Heh. I'll say again, metrics are rarely accurate enough to base decisions on by themselves.

    *Which is really easy to fudge with a simple script or program.

    • So, if my employer is tracking how much I type or how many windows I click on in a day*, which of the two above scenarios is the more efficient methods of getting a job done ? Because I didn't sit for three days straight and manually configure these systems, then I'm not as productive ?

      Heh. I'll say again, metrics are rarely accurate enough to base decisions on by themselves.

      Reminds me of a summer job I had briefly back in the 90s at a now-defunct cell phone company. I was working the collections department, which was a disaster when I got there. They were losing huge amounts of money from people with delinquent accounts, people who hadn't paid but still using huge amounts of service, and most of them would ultimately be sent off to 3rd-party collections agencies, where the bills were unlikely to ever be paid. Fraud was a huge problem too.

      I came in and did my best with wha

  • I've worked in call centers, and done IT work for call centers. If you think you're being tracked at work, and you don't work in a call center, you shouldn't complain. :-) Seriously, I can't think of a more soul-crushing work environment. Every single customer interaction is timed, recorded, and used to rate performance. Some call centers make their employees ask if they can go to the bathroom, like they're back in school. And call centers are usually supervised by the worst micromanagers. Some of this is b

  • some of us know how to build, configure, maintain and customize those measuring systems. we're not worried about our jobs, our salaries go ever upward. sucks to be the rest of you....

  • We have known for hundreds of years that measuring work only serves to get people to game the system. This has been happening in computer science for decades, and it is a well known fact that their is no perfect algorithm that actually measures the value of someones work. Instead we are left counting lines written, and creating loads of problems and reducing actual productivity.
  • Tyler Cowen writes in MIT Technology Review that the improved measurement of worker performance through information technology is beginning to allow employers to measure value fairly precisely

    Your value has nothing to do with anything your employer can measure.

    This is how we got to be such a sick culture, by thinking that the profits we can generate for our employer equals our value. And if your employer valued the "value" of an employee, how many CEOs would be making 8-digit salaries with golden parachute

    • Agreed, but they're using the word "value" purely in the financial sense, not as a measure of your worth as a human being or anything.
      • Agreed, but they're using the word "value" purely in the financial sense, not as a measure of your worth as a human being or anything.

        Of course they are. It's how you use language as a tool of control. Notice also that the same word is used for "loyalty" to a company and loyalty to a family or creed.

        We have been conditioned to see ourselves in terms of our value to the ownership class.

        • by tomhath ( 637240 )

          We have been conditioned to see ourselves in terms of our value to the ownership class.

          Most of us have been conditioned to understand that the same word can have different meanings in different contexts.

          • Most of us have been conditioned to understand that the same word can have different meanings in different contexts.

            If that were true, then phrases such as "Pro-Life" and "Freedom of Choice" wouldn't be so effective on the masses.

            No, highly charged words cross a threshold that most people don't even realize exists. Marketing relies on this phenomenon. I would dare say that even people who expect it, like you and me, are susceptible. In fact, our willingness to believe that we are impervious to this effec

        • by neminem ( 561346 )

          What's wrong with using "loyalty" to a company? Loyalty just means the chance that you'll go out of your way to use them, vs. the chance you'll ditch them for a competitor at the first chance. There are plenty of companies I feel "loyal" to, because they've done things to make me value the services the provide, like provide consistently good customer service, or uniquely quality offerings, or the best prices, etc.

          (The funny thing is, the companies always *asking* for our loyalty are never remotely the ones

          • What's wrong with using "loyalty" to a company? Loyalty just means the chance that you'll go out of your way to use them, vs. the chance you'll ditch them for a competitor at the first chance.

            I'm going to explain to you why that's baloney. "Loyalty" to a company means you'll buy their products because their products have been good so far. If that company sells you a bad product, you'll think about using a different company. If they sell you two bad products, you may never use them again. How many bad

            • by neminem ( 561346 )

              Screw that. It means *exactly* the same thing. If my hypothetical brother needs money, I'll give him money, cause he's my brother. If my brother takes that money and blows it, maybe I'll do it again, because he made a mistake and really needs the money. If my brother takes that money and blows it also, and keeps doing it, then screw him, he's on his own, you only get so many shots.

              Family only goes so far - it's an immediately loyalty bonus, but still, loyalty has to go both ways, and it has to be maintained

              • Family only goes so far

                So I guess for you, loyalty to a company that sells you a smartphone and loyalty to your family really are the same thing.

  • The basic problem with measuring performance is once there is a specific technical objective function for success established people will work to achieve it in any way possible regardless of whether it is ultimately in the best interests of the company or anyone else. Workers have more incentive, time and energy to find ways to game the system than its designers.

    To use TFA's example the result of ratings oriented journalism is apparent to everyone. The media has transformed itself into little more than a

  • Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door - that way Lumbergh can't see me, heh heh - and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.

    Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I'm working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

  • Race to the bottom (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @12:40PM (#50620557)

    FTA: "The result is that many journalists turn out to be not so valuable at all. Their wages fall or they lose their jobs, while the superstar journalists attract more Web traffic and become their own global brands."

    So at least in journalism, only the most popular will have a subsidized voice, and the rest will have to pay their own way if they want to share their insights. Since when is popularity the ultimate measure of value in a society, especially when it comes to news? Sometimes people really need to hear the stuff that's scary, uncomfortable, guilt-inducing, etc., even though it's not popular. If we continue down this road then I hope everyone enjoys having Fox-style reporting as the only available news source.

    Yes, I realize I've used a 'reductio ad absurdum' argument, but I don't think I've gone very far into absurdity here. It strikes me that in a lot of ways this kind of 'metric' is merely measuring quantity when its purveyors seem to think that it measures quality. Maybe that's because quantity is so much easier to measure. But like a drunk searching for his keys under a streetlight because 'the light's better there', it's probably counterproductive.

  • by frank249 ( 100528 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @01:04PM (#50620721)

    ... the N's do justify the means.

  • by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @01:57PM (#50621087)

    Unlike many of my office co-workers, I've done manual/physical labor in warehouses and what not. When I hear about office productivity and reporting, I often wonder just exactly what it is they're measuring because for software development, none of the metrics actually seem to apply. With physical labor, I never felt like I had a moment to breathe. Twenty eight boxes per minute was the standard, the goal, and the basis for all future performance metric evaluations (including raises and bonuses). Clock in. Start. Twenty eight boxes per minute. Small boxes. Big boxes. Heavy boxes. Broken boxes. reach, grab, place. reach, grab, place. No moments to think about life, what I want for dinner, what my professor talked about in my day classes. Box. Box. Box. Box. Box. Box. Twenty eight times per minute (my rate was around 35-40, though. I miss being young, but I don't miss wasting that youth on boxes). As I moved into the "white collar" world, the standards seemed to change. "File X papers/hour. Answer X phone calls per hour." Same sort of goals. I knew exactly where I stood at all times in the grand queue of things.

    As a developer.. It's a completely different world. Lines of Code? Bullshit, everyone knows how to game that. Milestones? Same deal. Half the time we're completing projects in 1/8th the allocated time and browsing the web the rest, the other half we're scrambling because they only allocated 1/8th the time it actually requires to get the job done (Try working for the .gov as a software developer.. Estimates aren't really an art as much as a "what can I say to make the guy in charge of my contract happy?", apparently). Etc. Productivity as a measurement in software development is increasingly idiotic. Whenever I hear "agile" and "scrum" I hear "We're trying to make objective measurements on something that really has no objective measurements because we have to check this box right here that says I have to have objective proof I'm actually working and doing my job!" Bleh.

    • This was my job when I was employed at a medical warehouse a few months ago.

      When we moved into a new building in April of last year, a metric system was put into place in the form of a voice picking headset. The headset told us where to go to pick the product, and we responded when the order was completed. Nobody in the company actually told us what the metric was, but we were graded as a daily percentage of how much product we picked an hour. When they told us that 100% is the engineered standard, but a

  • by al0ha ( 1262684 ) on Tuesday September 29, 2015 @02:05PM (#50621165) Journal
    "Today a digital media company knows exactly how many people are reading which articles for how long.."

    Baloney - the may know roughly, with many factors contributing to X percentage of error, including bots, people that land on a page then are distracted to do something else, thus never actually read the article though they are parked on it, then click away after a few minutes, and myriad other reasons I don't have time to type or can't even conceive of at this moment.
  • If you skip ahead through the dominoes, the bottom line of increased surveillance is, ultimately, it allows for further squeezing of the working class. That's really what it boils down to.

    Money gravitates outward from Prolekistan, and will continue as their sole export (labor) increasingly "grows on trees".

    I sincerely don't know how to reverse the process.
  • I have a personal metric: Every year I try and find a way for my employer to save more money than they spend on my salary.

    If I can do that, I know that everything else I do that year is free to my employer and my year end review is a lot easier. All I need to do the rest of the year is avoid adding negative value and I'm sorted.

    It's surprisingly easy to hit this metric too. Most companies have a ton of waste.

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