#305      34 min 57 sec
The boss’ gaze: Workplace surveillance and its meaning for employees and organizations

Management expert Prof Graham Sewell discusses the evolution of workplace surveillance, or employee monitoring, and considers both its useful and unsettling effects. Presented by Lynne Haultain.




Prof Graham Sewell
Prof Graham Sewell

Graham Sewell is Professor of Management in the Department of Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne. Prior to rejoining the University in 2007 he was the Chair and Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Imperial College Business School, London. Graham has held visiting positions at several major international institutions including the University of California’s Berkeley and Santa Cruz campuses. From 2004 to 2005, he was the Ministerio de Educación y Ciensias de España visiting professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

Graham conducts research in two main areas: the social and psychological effects of workplace surveillance; and, the politics of organizational change. His highly influential work on these topics has been published in the field’s leading journals such as the Administrative Science Quarterly and the Academy of Management Review. He has also undertaken consulting work for numerous “Blue Chip” companies in Europe and Australia.

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Credits

Host: Lynne Haultain
Producers: Eric van Bemmel, Kelvin Param
Audio Engineer: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Series Creators: Kelvin Param and Eric van Bemmel

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VOICEOVER
This is Up Close, the research talk show from the University of Melbourne, Australia.  

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Welcome to Up Close.  I’m Lynne Houltain. Whether it's cctv on street corners or how often you use loyalty cards at the supermarket, the vast majority of metropolitan lives are monitored for all sorts of reasons from public order to commercial intelligence but what about where we work?  The media from time to time carries reports of oppressive surveillance and monitoring in the workplace, things like GPS tracking technology or logging how long you're away from your computer and there's often alarm raised that workers weren't consulted or that it erodes the trust between management and staff.
We might think that these are heavy handed but according to Professor Graham Sewell, modern business and bureaucracy practices an array of surveillance and calls it performance management.  Many, if not most of us, are being watched, measured and assessed on an ongoing basis and judgments are made about our workplace behaviour and attitudes.  Graham Sewell is Professor of Organisation Studies and Human Resource Management in the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne and he's been looking closely at workplace issues including surveillance, ethics and team work for many years and he joins us for this edition of Up Close.  Professor Graham Sewell, welcome.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Thank you.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Well, I must admit, when I saw those two phrases connected, workplace surveillance, performance management, it didn't immediately strike me as the same thing but a few seconds later it did dawn that that is exactly what's going on.  We are being watched and assessed and measured on a very consistent basis and you say that that connection is made because performance management really is about finding the gap between a worker's performance and the expectation of management.  Is that what joins these two concepts together?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Yes, I think a nice place to start will be to think about regular occupations.  Now, we're all used to the annual performance review or perhaps something quite old fashioned like punching the clock or today logging into our workstation but think of a situation where you can monitor what somebody is doing at every moment of the day and we find that increasingly, in many occupations, that we can just tell not just where somebody is, whether they're in the right place at the right time, but how hard or how un-hard if you like that they're now working.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Well, let's take this back in time because this is very clearly an industrial phenomenon that we can be watched and monitored.  That connection between workplace surveillance and performance management, let's talk about that as a phenomenon because it really does come out of the industrial era, doesn't it, that we can be monitored and watched to such an extent.  I suppose the image that comes to mind is the classic Jeremy Benthamite construction of the Panopticon, the physical environment where one person can watch very many, whether or not it's in a school or a prison or some other sort of industrial context.  Is that where this emerges?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
It's a very interesting place to start, Lynne, because we have to imagine at the end of the 18th Century the prison was a very new invention.  Before that prisons were just holding pens for people awaiting trial or awaiting execution or perhaps deporting to Australia or somewhere like that.  The invention of the prison meant that people's activity had to be monitored and controlled in time and space and, in fact, Bentham's term, the Panopticon was, in fact, a brand name.  He was a great entrepreneur as well as a great philosopher and he saw that the Panopticon was an opportunity to extend those principles, rational principles of controlling human activity in time and space across a wide range of organisations which were just emerging at the time, things like factories, prisons, work houses, schools even.  Those kinds of things, so in a sense, the Panopticon and the idea of constant surveillance of inmates or students or employees was really Bentham making a connection with his rational principles of economic management and the control of human activity.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
And then we skip forward because we have Foucault, the French philosopher who picks it up in the late 20th Century, that concept of being watched.  Over the period between Bentham and Foucault, that has become reality, not quite in the way that Bentham might have anticipated with a physical construct but the notion of surveillance has become pervasive, hasn't it?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Yes, well, Bentham actually literally saw the Panopticon as a machine and spent actually 30 or 40 years perfecting it and trying to sell it to governments all over Europe as part of his entrepreneurial activities.  But Foucault uses Bentham's idea of the Panopticon more as a metaphor; the metaphor for the desire to monitor and, in fact, know everything there is to know about everybody all the time and he relates that to the explosion in the late 18th and 19th Century of the need to control mass populations through health, through education, through prison, through factories.  
It's an interesting example of a shift in the way of thinking in the sense that before those times in the Medieval period you dealt with everybody on a case-by-case basis but what Foucault was interested in was the way that we started treating people by seeing the extent to which they deviated from some kind of norm or standard of performance or behaviour.  So in that sense, what he's expressing is this desire to know what somebody is doing and how well they're doing it and if it's good enough or if it isn't good enough and how can we help them to improve it or how can we discipline them, if you like.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
We'll get to the concepts of how that's perceived in a few minutes but I suppose the other literary reference that rises quickly in the mind is 1984 - Big Brother, we're being watched constantly.  Is that also invoked, I suppose, in conversations about workplace surveillance?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
It certainly is.  I don't go to a conference, I don't think, where somebody doesn't say, well, this is just like 1984.  Of course, many aspects of it are.  1984 we associate with state repression, big government, those kinds of things whereas the things I'm more interested in are the everyday, the more day-to-day kind of activities like work or getting on the tram or something like that but particularly in the workplace, how we conduct ourselves and how particularly managers are monitoring our kinds of activities.
I think that 1984 is interesting but it's a bit too simple in a sense, because in 1984 it's very easy to tell who the bad guys are but I'm more interested in an experience of surveillance in the workplace which is much more ambiguous where, on the one hand, we can see that it has benefits but on the other hand, we feel that it's sometimes an intrusion.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
That makes perfect sense, I suppose, in that that notion of the overarching oppressive regime whether it be Big Brother or the Stasi in East Germany or the government-defined surveillance is one thing.  But the more mundane notion of workplace surveillance that we all participate in, to one extent or another, is much more pervasive.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Yes, I think a nice way to think about it is to go back 25 years when I first started getting interested in this and I was involved in a very prosaic research project where we were looking at information technology systems to support manufacturing and we went into many plants and we were struck by the extent to which those computer-based manufacturing control systems were able to measure the performance of individual employees on a moment-by-moment basis.  The thing that, in a sense, connected us with the work of people like Bentham earlier and, of course, as you mentioned Foucault, was it was an expression of the desire to know what somebody is doing at every moment of the time.  Of course, when you enter a workplace you sign a contract where you commit a particular amount of time for a particular reward but, of course, employers want to know whether you're working as hard as you possibly can at every moment of the day.
Then it's almost a compulsion, a kind of a desire to know what those people are doing and whether they are contributing positively to the organisation and comparing them with other people as well and that's an important aspect of it as well.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
And is it about technology and the fact is that over the last 25 years since you did that research, we are now much more capable of monitoring and assessing on a minute-by-minute basis than we ever have been?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
That's a very good question and, of course, it's undeniable that the technology has allowed us to do these kinds of things but I think the technology is just a means to an end.  It's that desire, that need almost by an employer to know - the compulsion to know what everybody's doing at every moment of the time just to make sure that they're not doing something terrible or perhaps just as importantly that they're doing something really well that other people can learn from.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
I'm Lynne Houltain.  You're listening to Up Close and in this episode I'm discussing surveillance at work and how performance management is used to keep tabs on workers with Professor and Human Resources Management, Graham Sewell.  Graham, we've talked about that compulsion, if you like, of the employer, the superior in this dynamic to understand and to monitor what his or her workers are up to.  But a lot of your interest is about how the workers feel about that so let's talk about the ambivalence, if you like, that we have in a workplace because it's not clear-cut that we don't like surveillance, is it?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, I think a useful starting point would be actually to go back to the origin of the word surveillance which quite literally means oversight and therefore you'd think it's quite naturally associated with a state of supervision, a manager observing a subordinate.  The question that you have to ask is why is the manager doing that, and I think there are two useful ways of thinking about that.  
One way is to think of the few watching the many for the benefit of the many because at work, of course, we all like to think that we're all pulling our weight and our colleagues and our team members, other employees are working just as hard as we are and we get very upset when we think that somebody's getting a reward and not really putting in enough effort.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
So if they're not pulling their weight in the team that sort of surveillance is really horizontal rather than vertical, isn't it?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, it is if you can visually see your colleagues but, of course, many of the activities we do we're on our own, we're separate.  Although our work depends on other people we can't actually physically observe what they're doing so I mean that point about horizontal monitoring, if you like, is very important but we're still thinking about this top down, if you like, supervisory arrangement.  So the question is, well, why are we doing that?  We hate free riders and we hate other people taking advantage of us so there is a sense that that kind of supervisory arrangement can help protect us from being taken advantage of by perhaps our colleagues as well as the organisation itself but also the fact that it is the few, in the sense of managers, watching the many, the mass of employees for the benefit of the many and we see that as being quite protective.
It's what I've described previously as surveillancer's care.  It's caring for the mutual priorities of the entire organisation.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
So that's about fairness, isn't it, fundamentally?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Fairness, yes.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
It's about I'm putting in an appropriate level of effort and confident that others are performing similarly for similar reward.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Yes it underpins our commitment to the organisation because we feel that we're getting out of work our due reward for what we put in.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
So does that go to a self-limiting theory, if you like, that employers will only monitor insofar as it's in the interests of the many?  Do you think it has a kind of self-limiting capacity or…

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, on a day-to-day basis, it's the moment when we feel that the company has overstepped the mark and has gone too far and that's when we shade over into a much more maligned kind of idea about what surveillance is about and you can think about that as the few watching the many for the benefit of the few.  That is that surveillance is about subordinating the interests of the great mass of the employees to a small group of people whether they be the management, the owners, the shareholders, that kind of thing.
So in that sense, the actual process of surveillance is identical but its purpose and its consequences are actually - seem to be quite different and you might think, well, there's an instance where it's really gone too far and that's just not fair and that's too intrusive and I'm not going to tolerate that.  You kind of shade over into that sense that, well, that's more about coercion than it is about protection or care and it's those kind of moments that people feel very conflicted about workplace surveillance and it's at those kinds of moments that they might actually push back and say, no that's too much.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Yes, and does that sort of flick into what Marx might describe as alienation, you know…

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Certainly, if you were taking a Marxist line, of course, it would probably be more about exploitation than alienation.  Marx had many interesting things to say about this kind of thing as he did about most things actually.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
But as you say, Graham, this is not black and white and our responses to varying degrees of surveillance can vary from time to time depending on the circumstance.  So we are quite ambivalent often about whether or not this surveillance is acceptable, whether or not we're prepared to buy into this courtesy of our contract of employment.  We're not settled about how we respond to this.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, I think a very interesting example would be a form of work, prostitution.  There's a very famous example of an area of Leeds in the UK called Chapeltown which was, at the time and still is quite notorious, for being the focus of many of the Yorkshire Ripper murders which was a major, major serial killer case in the UK in the 1970s and '80s.  At the very early stages of street cctv surveillance, the police moved in cameras to Chapeltown with a view to driving out street prostitution but, in fact, the very opposite happened.  All the prostitutes would gather along the streets that were covered by cctv because they felt protected.  They felt that every time they were picked up in a particular car there would be a record of the number plate, perhaps an identification of the individual person and a timestamp and it offered them a sense of protection and so they actually flocked to the areas which were under surveillance.  I think that's a very interesting example, perhaps outside of the normal workplace kind of environment but a very good example of how that kind of thing that we might feel is being coercive and intrusive can also protect us as well.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Maybe there are examples too though of that sort of protection in a more regular workplace.  I'm thinking of Little Britain and the computer saying no which offers the worker ultimate protection.  The system says I can't do this, therefore sorry, that's the end of it.  So that level of surveillance, I suppose, or structure around your workplace means that the worker doesn't need to take the personal responsibility for their inability to resolve something for the consumer.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, certainly a kind of exchange that we're all familiar with is with a call centre and we tend to think of call centres as being very undifferentiated places but with so much service work now being enacted through call centres and, of course, websites but particularly call centres.  There are many different kinds of engagements that you might have with a customer as a customer service representative on the telephone and you're right.  It does give the opportunity for the employee to counter perhaps an accusation so when a customer rings up and complains about the quality of the service the customer service representative can simply refer to the record of the conversation and it will demonstrate that, yes, they did actually conduct the interview with the correct protocols, that they were very polite, that they were trying to help the person as much as possible. 
So in that sense, it affords the customer service representative a degree of protection so although they are constantly under some kind of monitoring we're all familiar with ringing up a call centre and listening to the recorded message, your call may be recorded for training purposes but it's also recorded not just for your own protection as a potential customer but also for the protection of the employee as well.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Mm and that capacity to revert back to previous interactions means that you've got the evidence on your side.  Let's tease through a few of the other question marks around the value or intrusiveness of this kind of workplace surveillance.  People say it's important to monitor your activity at work because that will lead to higher productivity and that will therefore lead to better work conditions and higher pay.  That productivity pay argument is seen as in the worker's interests.  
There was a case study of UPS trucks in the United States where it's clear that various different developments in terms of the way in which they shave seconds and minutes off their delivery system for parcels to addresses means that the drivers got better pay.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, it harks back to a point I made earlier which is that if you look at performance monitoring as surveillance, it's not just about identifying people who are not performing to the accepted standard but it's also about identifying people who have perhaps found, by their own ingenuity or innovation, a way to extend and work beyond the normal standard of behaviour.  Then, once you identified what that person's done that can become a point of learning for the whole organisation potentially in a sense it can be pushed through the organisation.
The problem about that is that not everybody has the same kind of physical or mental capacities.  I'm thinking here particularly about things like fatigue.  If you think about that compulsion I talked about earlier, the desire to make sure that everybody is working as hard as they possibly can at every minute of the day, if you make the most expert or the most productive person the standard for everybody else, clearly some people are not going to be able to catch up to that and, in fact, may sustain industrial injuries or RSI or be subject to stress or exhaustion, that kind of thing. 
One of the things that we often forget is that when we're seeking this constant drive for productivity there are limits to human endurance quite literally which may be tested by this.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
So if we see the sort of performance pay link as being an incentive, if you like for workers to perform at this level, then we're also sold as part of this current thinking around this, that performance management is critical for your continuous improvement and it almost becomes a moral argument that you are beholden to your employer to continuously improve and to have this feedback of your performance and therefore you can be a better person.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, it's a nice way of putting it, a moral obligation.  Many employers, if not explicitly perhaps implicitly, would believe that when you sign on the dotted line on that contract you are making a moral obligation to devote as much of your energies, as much of your intelligence, as much of your capabilities if you like, to the bottom line of the organisation.  In that respect, the idea of surveillance is in a sense, holding you to that bargain and it can be quite intrusive.  It can be quite intense.  It can be quite stressful as well as offering some of those protections that we talked about earlier.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
I think for many of us, the line gets very blurry about what's fair in all of this.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Yes, one of the issues about workplace surveillance and opposing that to surveillance in broader society is that it's not particularly well covered by legislation.  In a sense, it's part of a mutually agreed contract between the employer and the employee.  It may be subject to negotiation but there are very few legal restraints and you'll find this in most developed countries.  There are very few legal restraints about what organisations can and can't do except ones which are covered by common law or general privacy kind of arrangements.
So in that sense it's a bit of a grey area and every organisation develops its own standards and its own culture and its own expectations and some of them are much more intensive than others.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
And I suppose the critical factor is how much the worker knows, how much is set out in the contract or terms or how much is made clear to them in their working experience as to what sort of surveillance, for want of a better phrase, is in and what's not, where the line is.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, I think people are pretty savvy to this now and we're all computer literate, we're all extensive users of the internet whether it be at home or at work.  So we know that anybody can probably at any time find out anywhere we've been on the internet.  They can also find out who we've called, what time we called them, whether it was a personal or a private call and I think that that kind of realisation is there.  I think that there are some things which are hidden that we don't realise but they're unobtrusive in the sense that they're built into the fabric of the technology.
So for example, 25 years ago when I was looking at a television factory in the UK the employees there didn’t know that every activity that they did could be, for example if they made an error in terms of the misinsertion of an electronic component, they didn't realise at the time that that could be identified and traced directly back to them until the moment when the consequences blew up in their face and they were pulled from the line and told that they were not performing to the standard, that they were making continual errors, those kinds of things.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
And doesn't that bring us back to the whole point of this?  Our response to the fact of this sort of monitoring is about whether or not we fall on the wrong side of that line?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
The question is that the line is constantly moving and it's a negotiated process and I think this harks back to the point I was making about the instances where, in a sense, we tolerate surveillance and what precipitates an incident where we say, well, that's - no longer are we going to tolerate that, we're going to push back and that kind of thing.  But the point is that that line is constantly moving.  A bit like in wider society, we think one of the defining elements of the 21st Century is going to be the 9/11 attacks and after that there was an expectation that yes, for our general protection, we perhaps might tolerate a bit more intrusion into our lives than we accepted before then and the same kind of situation can be seen in the workplace.
An example might be that if workplace cctv might prevent a serious assault or something like that at work, and we can all see not just the rationality of those kinds of activities of surveillance but also the morality of it.  It's protecting us all but…

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
So once again, back to protection but…

GRAHAM SEWELL 
I remember a very famous case that occurred in Australia about 10 years ago, something quite prosaic.  It was a suburban hairdresser but the owner of the hairdressing salon had to put up cctv cameras in the washrooms, in the staff toilets.  It was actually a matter that went to court and his argument was that he had the sense that many of his employees were, in fact, shirking or taking unauthorised time off and having a cigarette in the toilet.  But, of course, there was uproar because it was a massive intrusion into a part of our working life that we expect to be private and that would be a very good example of where most people would recognise that that has gone too far.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Yes, the line had been crossed but, as you say, for the rest of the working experience it can get very confusing and our responses to it can be quite confused also, I think, and therefore our capacity to push back gets curtailed.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Yes and I think what we consider to be public and what we consider to be private is constantly changing.  That boundary, if you like, between the private and public, even in the workplace there are boundaries which we consider to be sacrosanct and others which are a bit more fuzzy.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
You're listening to Up Close.  I'm Lynne Houltain, and in this episode we're looking at how workers perceive performance management or workplace surveillance.  Do you we feel coerced or cared for, and our guest is Professor in Organisation Studies, Graham Sewell.   Graham, you mentioned 9/11 and, of course, that was a turning point in terms of overarching surveillance.  The western world particularly upped the ante in a very significant way.  Did that flow on to workplaces?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
I think more generally in the sense that a lot of what goes on in workplaces in terms of the technology that you mentioned earlier, is a spin-off from what's going on in broader society.  So the rise of cctv in workplaces mirrors the rise of cctv in the broader society and in the workplace.  Also if you think about computer technology as well and our ability to actually not just trace where somebody is and what they're doing but almost what they're thinking as well.  Companies like eBay or Amazon build up profiles of our consumer behaviour from the kinds of web pages we visit as well.
It sounds fanciful but it's almost an extension of what we were talking about earlier, that compulsion to know everything there is to know about everybody, that employees could almost know the minds of their employees, almost predict what they're going to do in the future.  So if you can just tap into what their thinking and can often do that by the kinds of activities that they do perhaps in their lunch hour on the workplace computer, what kinds of websites they look at.
So you can find instances now where people - organisations, they don't preclude their employees from looking at the website but they're very interested in the kinds of sites they visit during their down time during their lunch hours and it's not just to prevent them from performing illicit kinds of activities but also knowing more about their employees.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
And where does that take them?  What's the value for the employer in all of that?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, one of the things we have to remember about employers is that a part of the selection process is looking for the right kind of person.  Somebody who, in a sense, subscribes to the organisation's culture, is one of us if you like and, of course, you never really know what somebody's thinking when they're in an interview but perhaps, in terms of their behaviour in the workplace, you can - and, look, I'm not advocating this but I think that there is a growing trend that employers are more interested in the kinds of activities that their employees do within the workplace but also outside the workplace as well.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Which goes back to, I suppose, the themes that are running through this are this notion of fairness and whether or not it is mutually acceptable that we're watching in this way.  The point you're making here is about judgment and what sorts of people we want to be part of our community in the workplace.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Yes, if you think about surveillances trying to establish whether somebody has achieved a standard or exceeded it or has not reached the standard, the question is what are those standards?  Of course, those are the standards which reflect our cultural morays, they reflect public debate, those kinds of things but they also reflect in the workplace, the kinds of expectations about productivity, about competition, about striving to get one over on your competitors, that kind of thing and competing through every kind of possible avenue that you can exploit.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Yes, you extract your edge wherever you possibly can but I suppose there's judgment of your performance and there's judgment of you as a person in your lunch hour or after hours when you tap in and look at, I don't know, purchasing powerboats on eBay or whatever else.  That also feeds into an employer's understanding of who you are and whether or not you're the right fit.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Perhaps that's an opportune point to refer back to Foucault who was very concerned about the moral dimension of this because the standard that people are judged by is a moral standard as well as behavioural standard about who ought to be the correct and upstanding citizen.  The rules of right, as he called them, are the rules that an upstanding and a moral citizen would perform but that kind of notion about what that standard is needs to be subject to debate.  It just can't be imposed on society by an elite or perhaps a small group of people that might constitute the management of an organisation.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
So let's take another philosopher in Martha Nussbaum, the American philosopher who talked about the need for meaningful work relationships and mutual recognition and I suppose, what you're talking about here is the extension of surveillance to such a point that it erodes that prospect.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Yeah, probably the best way to think about that is that the surveillance that we've been talking about, in a sense, rationalises the individual and breaks them down into a particular type who performs a series of prescribed functions and in that sense the judgment that we begin to exercise about the status of that person, about whether they are a good corporate citizen, if you like, tends to focus on those kinds of issues of measurement.  The point that Nussbaum makes I think is very interesting, is that that tends to drive out the emotional aspect, things like trust and commitment because imagine a situation where you are subjecting your employees to more intense scrutiny, greater, greater surveillance, it's kind of sending a message that you don't really trust them. They might say they're committed but you don't quite believe them.  You've got to have that backup and I think that's interesting because that mediates in the relationship between the employee and the employer.
If the company's telling me they trust me but there's surveillance all around, it kind of tends to send that message that, well, maybe they're not really being straight up about it.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Also it means that a judgment is fixed, doesn't it?  That you can't actually change your behaviour over time and change that judgment or it's difficult to do that.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
That, of course, again is a very interesting point and the question is who's doing the judging of course if the judgment about our performance is more distributed between our peers as it perhaps in a university.  Although that might be an idealisation, I don't know.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
I'll leave that to you.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
But if we're judging each other constantly, I meant, that's something we're doing whether it's formalised or not, that tends to be much more likely to reflect the cultural standards that prevail at the time.  But if that judgment that you mentioned, that kind of judgment based on the monitoring, the surveillance that the organisation is doing, is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands - hands that may not be evident to the rest of the workforce then there's a problem there because we lose some transparency.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
This has been a dilemma for the entirety of industrial enterprise I think, that people feel that they've got a black mark against their name in the foreman's book and they'll never be able to turn that around.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
That's very true, although we talked earlier that sometimes one of the benefits of constant surveillance is that we can turn the table sometimes and say, well, I kept my side of the bargain, what have you done for me lately?  If we go back to that original phrase that we started off with, surveillance, oversight, there's an implication there that it's a hierarchical relationship and therefore it's one of power.  That's a kind of a relationship that we don't often see because it is unobtrusive.  It's embedded in the technology of the workplace, the tyranny of the clock, the speed of the line and those kinds of things but ultimately if it is genuine surveillance, that is the few watching the many, then ultimately also the judgments that we're talking about are left in the hands of a very small group of people. 
We have to rely, if you like, on them being benign dictators almost in the sense that they're exercising that judgment to the standards that everybody else expects but it can go awry.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
So what you're saying is that that's constantly shifting as well.  Cast your mind forward, where is this headed?  We have phenomenal capacities to store data now and the websites that are cached, the Facebook photos will be there for eternity or it feels like it, and you will be constantly reminded of your electronic footprint from the age of dot, so…

GRAHAM SEWELL 
And it can be very embarrassing of course.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Indeed, so where does this take us?   What is our workplace of the future going to look like in terms of the way in which we're monitored?

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Well, of course, it's hard to speculate if you think about Moore's law where computer power doubles every 18 months.  Five years from now is pretty exciting territory.  I think that it's worth reflecting on that trend that you mentioned there and, of course, the term big data has become a very popular term and is seen, in many respects, as the next big thing that is going to transform not just our social lives but our working lives as well.  
I think that it's a bit more prosaic than that.  It's more about big storage.  It's the actual capability of retaining those kinds of records but also there's a computer processing element to it as well in the sense that we can make connections between those records using things like novel algorithms.  For example, Google's major advantage over its competitors when it first emerged on the market was that it had a better algorithm.  But it's those kinds of things which are transforming the activities that we do.  One of the implications of that is that the power centres of commerce and industry are shifting away from the traditional General Motors and the conglomerates to these new organisations like Google or eBay which are massive organisation.  It's shifting the power away from traditional employers to these kind of third party kinds of organisations which mediate in the relationship between, for example, a customer and a company that employs people, that kind of thing.
So there's an emergence of a new ecosystem if you like, I mean a kind of a commercial ecosystem where our kinds of activities are very different to the ones we had before.  We may no longer have a traditional long-term one-on-one relationship with an employer.  We may have several employers simultaneously, all of them who are interested in what we're doing.  In fact, I've recently done some work with some colleagues in Europe which has looked at home workers who are employed by several people at the same time and they're subject to intensive scrutiny and surveillance through their workstation.  It's a shared workstation but they use the same workstation for all their employers but each of those employers is looking to what they're doing on a moment-by-moment basis.
One of the aspects is that we may find ourselves being subject to scrutiny from more than one employer at one time.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
No escape.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
No escape.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Graham Sewell, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

GRAHAM SEWELL 
Thank you.

LYNNE HOULTAIN 
Graham Sewell is Professor of Organisation Studies and Human Resource Management in the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne.  He's the author and the co-author of a number of articles on workplace surveillance including Working Under Intensive Surveillance: When Does Measuring Everything that moves become intolerable?  And Organisation Employees and Surveillance.
You'll find more details of his publications on the Up Close website together with a full transcript of this and all our other programs.  Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne Australia created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param.
This episode was recorded on 3 June 2014, produced by Kelvin Param and Eric van Bemmel with audio engineering by Gavin Nebauer.  I'm Lynne Houltain, thanks for listening and I hope you can join us again soon.

VOICEOVER 
You've been listening to Up Close.  We're also on Twitter and Facebook.  For more information visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  Copyright 2014, the University of Melbourne.


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