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Is this AI step too far?

It has been revealed that hundreds of UK business are using artificial intelligence to monitor staff activity. Is this an innovative way to analyse productivity or a stressful scrutinisation of individuals’ activity?

London company Status Today has created the “Isaak” system, which is estimated to be monitoring around 130,000 employees in the UK and abroad. The system monitors staff in real time and then uses algorithms to rank them based on attributes.  Using technologies such as this one, such attributes could include; how long employees spend at or away from their desks, how many emails they send in an hour and how quickly they type.

The Isaak system compares individuals’ activity data with performance targets to display how collaborative individuals are, to show how an employee’s behaviour effects output. So far, five law firms, as well as a number of other business across a variety of sectors, are known to be using the system.

Trade unions have condemned this use of technology for creating stress among the workforce. Indeed this high level of judgement has been criticised by many for putting too much pressure on staff, who could be discouraged from taking breaks, or allowing sufficient time for strategic or creative thinking, out of fear that this will look ‘unproductive’.

More optimistic groups have praised the technology, believing that it could reduce subconscious bias and discrimination in the workplace. Further, the chief executive of Status Today has said that the system is aimed to provide “well-being analysis”, so that employers can see if staff are being overworked, by tracking evening and weekend activity, for example.

This is all well and good for companies who think that overworking their staff is a bad thing. In turn, this also depends on what each corporate’s own understanding is, of what it means to ‘over-work’ staff. Time is money as the saying goes.

As well as systems like Isaak, some companies across the globe have started microchipping employees. The first case of this occurred in the US in 2017, in which the rationale was to help staff to ‘clock in and out’ without the need for a swipe card. However, with a chip inside your hand, the possibilities of data harvesting are endless. From measuring the length of toilet breaks, to monitoring whether you actually remain housebound all day, when you call in sick.

Last year a Norwegian company made female employees where a red bracelet during their time of the month to justify extra trips to the toilet, if needed. Not only is this a complete invasion of privacy, it is a distressing reflection of the level of scrutiny some employers place on time spent ‘not working’, explaining the move towards tracking technologies, such as chipping and Isaak.

It appears that we are heading towards what experts are calling a “precision economy”. This is a world in which we will see more and more aspects of our lives being recorded and analysed.

It is predicted that workers in hospitality and retail could be tracked for periods of inactivity whilst on shift. As well as this, many of us already track our activity levels, sleep and resting heart rates, all from a devise we wear on our wrists. Soon no doubt we will see Insurance companies using this data to set premiums for customers.

It is feared that the data produced from tracking technologies will have huge implications on career progression. The metrics and statistics of all our ‘efficiency’ levels could be the determining factor to a pay rise or promotion. Could technology lead to our good interpersonal and competency skills being disregarded?

It has been revealed that hundreds of UK business are using artificial intelligence to monitor staff activity

Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC has warned that; “this kind of high-tech snooping creates fear and distrust and undermines morale, causing businesses more harm than good. Employers should only introduce surveillance technologies after negotiation and agreement with the workforce, including union representatives.”

If you’re planning to use technology to monitor staff in your business speak to one of our ForburyTECH experts for advice on how to utilise such technology in an ethical way, ensuring that that levels of trust are not impacted.

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About this article

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