Employees are being called back to the office - some companies are even tagging staff - an article about the downside of employment - dusting down the employee shacklesAs someone who has been a non-employee since 1996, I have seen the upsides and the downsides of self-employment (in this day and age, this would be ‘entrepreneur’ but is such a nebulous BS-laden phrase that I tend to avoid it). The worrying thing is to see corporations dusting down the employee shackles as they prepare to lock them down to a desk again.

There’s no denying that a lot of people want to be employees – there can be a certain comfort to think that you will get a regular wage. People who ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’ can be happy with a 9-5 role. The trouble is that the new world of AI, automation, globalisation, etc. means that the safe 9-5 role is likeliest to be hit.

I already know of law firms using AI and the automated barista at Cafe X. Add to that telemarketers, retail workers, accounting, delivery personnel, warehouse operatives… the list goes on and gets ever longer.

So here’s the question: why be an employee when you know you’re job is on the hit-list?

The post-2007 crash created a new landscape: companies were seen as the bad guys; banks were blamed for ruining economies; executives were accused of lying; corporations were the villains that destroyed society.

Some of these may be valid but we also saw the onset of improving sexual equality (stay-at home dads), millennials seeking work with organisations with the right values rather than the right salary, and ‘populist’ votes like Trump and Brexit.

This dumbing down of political arguments has led to lies being told during campaigns and then being declared as ‘post-truth’ / ‘post fact’ in which debate is framed largely by emotion and prejudice rather than details and truth. At a time when critical thinking is needed most, large swathes of the electorate have opted for an Orwellian world where truth is constantly rewritten to fit the propaganda goals of the day.

It’s a new world and we are now seeing some very interesting developments.

Remember how the employee can sometimes choose to be an employee to fit their ‘work to live’ agenda? Well we’re not only entering a time where people can be replaced (and, in the process, with fewer jobs, possibly becoming unemployable), but corporations are now edging back to demanding a loyalty from staff that they themselves have no intention of reciprocating.

Basically, promise your undying love to me as your employer until the day comes when I can replace you and then you can leave.

1984 is here - chipping employees - dusting down the employee shacklesThere’s a few examples here: Stockholm’s Epicenter Ecosystem offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

When questioned about this, journalists were told that the technology in itself is not new as it is already used in virtual collar plates for pets and companies use them to track deliveries.

The co-founder and CEO of Epicenter, Patrick Mesterton admits that “people have been implanting things into their body, like pacemakers and stuff to control your heart. That’s a way, way more serious thing than having a small chip that can actually communicate with devices.”

But this hasn’t stopped over 200 people from getting chipped (let’ be honest, we ‘chip’ animals so that we know who owns them if they go astray… the process is no different to ‘chipping’ a human).

Replicating this is the Wisconsin-based organisation 32M with an entirely optional implant enabling employees to perform a range of common office tasks with an effortless wave of their hand (e.g. opening a door).

According to the organization, while the chips might not track workers’ location by GPS, they nonetheless could give a huge amount of data about what employees do and when – like how often they take breaks or use the bathroom, what kind of snacks they buy, and so on.

Chipping employees like wayward dogs - employers dusting down the employee shacklesAgain, back to Sweden: SJ is the first travel company in the world trialling passengers using biometric chips as tickets. The State-owned organisation has said it expects about 200 people to take up the microchip method, but users must be signed up as a loyalty programme member to access the service. Customers buy tickets in the normal way by logging onto the website or mobile app, and their membership number, which is the reference code for the ticket, is linked to their chip.

One of the first problems? Well, some passengers’ LinkedIn profiles were appearing instead of their train tickets when conductors scanned their biometric chip. With such a small group, we already see the accidental accessing of the wrong data.

So, what we have is the option to have technology implanted where the data access is a little screwy… just so that we can open a door. The take up by SJ to use RFID for ticket processing suggests that this will be a serious consideration but does this mean that there are virtual wallets attached to the implant?

If we take this further, do we have health data capture so that we can spot onset of cancer, stroke, cardiac arrest? If so, do insurance companies demand access to the data prior to agreeing a policy?

As an employee, what happens when you leave the organisation?

OK, the last bit: less of a ‘virtual shackle’ and on to the real thing.

The post-2007 world is moving again and that means that corporations are no longer worried about their employer brand in the world. Why have agile and flexible working with home working, telecommuting and reduced carbon footprints? We’re in the post-truth world where big brother / sister can do as they please because the threat of AI, et al will cow employees into doing as they are told.

IBM dusting down the employee shacklesUnder the guise of ‘seeking to rekindle creative tensions’, IBM has spent $750 million to remodel workplaces around teams — that are present and accounted for. Aetna, Best Buy, Honeywell International and Reddit are others who are clipping remote-work arrangements.

Interesting to note that employers admit to no loss in productivity among home-working employees.

So what does IBM spend almost a billion dollars on remodelling?

Is this a lack of trust? A lack of faith in management ability? The suggestion that it costs so much money to ‘rekindle creative tensions’ seems laughable and yet, let’s be honest, it’s basically an expensive form of chipping your staff.

Oh, and if you are an IBM employee unwilling to co-locate to one of six cities in USA? IBM has told them that they are free to look for a new job.

Rather than invest in authenticity, leadership, team cohesion, and the 101 other elements associated with a great organization… truly, the post-truth corporations begin dusting down the employee shackles.

Written by 

Neil Fogarty is CEO of the Boardroom Development Company, Eskil. He is a business author, speaker, advisor and consultant: a Master Practitioner in Emotional Intelligence assessment & feedback; a Principal Practitioner with the Association of Business Psychology and contributes articles to Virgin Group and also Bahrain's Business In Gulf magazine.

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