Microsoft decided in the 21st century to realize the anti-utopia of George Orwell's "1984." They filed a patent application for a computer system to monitor their employees. The company believes this software will enable them to determine an employee's productivity, physical state of health, and even competence. But human rights advocates, lawyers and psychologists feel certain that this system will disturb employees, possibly doing more harm than good. This issue will also be relevant for Russia.
According to patent-legislation specialists, Microsoft's application could be approved within a year. If that happens, any employer will be free to purchase and implement this system of total surveillance. Employees will not be able to hide anything: the system will reportedly include wireless sensors that measure heart rates, body temperatures, and blood pressure, as well as follow the employees' movements and facial expressions. The application also states that the sensors would include an electromyogram (the natural electricity passing through muscles which makes them move) and brain signals. If an employee experiences stress, the system would offer help. Obviously, the presence of the monitoring system itself will be huge shock. Help, therefore, will doubtlessly be required non-stop.
Previously such monitoring systems were limited to pilots, astronauts, and firefighters. Microsoft is the first company to propose developing such software for mainstream workplaces. However, the degree to which the system will be successful is yet unknown. Microsoft's proposal has already caused a backlash of criticism. Labor unions are expressing fear that employees could be dismissed on the basis of the data gathered by the new system. For example, let's suppose that an employee's blood pressure often rises (which, by the way, could very well be the effect of the monitoring). Will the company be required to retain such a person or could they simply exchange him for a stronger worker?
Workers' rights advocates contend that even though the system will supervise employees on a new technological level, it is based on an old approach: to evaluate the process of work, rather than the result.
Also coming out against the implementation of the system are human rights activists and lawyers, who are convinced that the idea of such employee monitoring is unsound.
The good news is this system will likely not be in great demand. First, the system will cost a considerable amount of money. The tradeoff between the cost and the system's effectiveness will hardly be in favor of Microsoft's invention. Second, existing employee-monitoring systems have already shown that in practice they cause more harm than good.
Today employees are monitored in two common ways. First, many firms – including those in Russia – set up video cameras that monitor not only an employee's actions, but also his computer screen. Another common way to control employees, which became popular last year, is regulating computer content so that employees can not play games, download films off the Internet, etc.
However, psychologists state that nothing good will come of such controls. Interference in the employee's personal space will reduce loyalty, set them against management, and influence performance. Nobody wants to feel like they're constantly under a microscope, especially considering how it would increase levels of nervousness and stress.
Incidentally, wise companies prefer to maintain manager/employee relationships that are built on the principles of trust. Google is a well-known example, having established some of the most liberal workspace conditions for employees. Indeed, as mentioned, the key is not process, but result.
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