I’m leaving town: A commentary on business ethics


The company I work for is now posting individual stats on tote boards in business meetings.  It bothers me.  It bothers me to the point that I am now leaving a company that I have been employed with for nearly eight years.  It’s not the only reason I’m leaving, but it is one of the big ones.

I know that posting such information is not an infringement on my private information.  I am quite sure that the HR department has cleared this with at least forty-five different lawyers, but is such activity ethical?  Is it American?  Is it something that you would want your company doing?

My fellow employees like the policy.  They believe that it will encourage those at the bottom of the tote board to do what is necessary to get to the top.  Full disclosure here–lest you think that I am one of those near the bottom–I am one of those near the top.  My political philosophy is generally pro-business in that in arguments I have had with my friends I usually fall on the side of business.

The company I work for has unprecedented demands on privacy… for it’s customers.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  There have been times when I was almost afraid to talk to customers for fear that I would divulge something that broke the company’s rules.  I’ve come to respect their regard for their customer’s privacy, however, and I’ve learned how to operate within those constraints.  They do not, however, extend the same concerns for their employees.

quittingIn my tenure with the company, we have signed away our privacy to allow our bosses to monitor our computers and our email inbox.  We have allowed the company to prevent employees from viewing websites that have been deemed unacceptable for us to view.  The term unacceptable in regard to websites has broadened a great deal in my tenure with the company.  I have allowed this to occur without complaint, but I don’t understand how I can be held accountable for someone else’s misdeeds to this degree.

I don’t understand why those committing the misdeeds aren’t dealt with on a case by case basis more often.  I understand that you can’t catch every employee performing every misdeed, and you need some general guidelines, and some general constraints, but it has gotten out of hand in my opinion with this particular company.   As I said, I have been relatively quiet throughout most of these constrictions on my freedom, but posting my stats has affected me in a manner that I cannot control.

A funny thing happened to me in my way out the door.  Two employees engaged in competitive banter.  This occurred in the middle of a business meeting, after the stats were revealed on the tote board.  This banter ended with one of the employees saying:

“Okay, miss 3.5% error rate.”

The supervisor interjected saying: “All right, we’ll not have people calling one another out like that.”

How can you avoid such a situation?  You may be able to put a stop to one employee calling another out in such a fashion, but how can you prevent the cultural divide that will occur between the haves and the have nots?  It would also seem to me that the idea of posting stats would eventually provide diminishing returns.  If the lower 10% are, in fact, driven to improve their stats, there will be a new lower 10% that is publicly humiliated.  What will become of them?  If the lower 10% quit out of humiliation, or they are cast off as excess fat that cannot contribute at department standards will the new employee class contribute at median or upper standards, and how long will that take?  How much money will it cost to train them to perform at department standard?  You must also calculate into the algorithm what is more important the quality standard or the quantity, and if you place emphasis on one what if you have an employee that excels at one standard, but he is a little below the department standard in the other.  This can be dealt with in a one on one basis, but when he is publicly humiliated for the overall, his performance may suffer.  This may all seem like an excellent motivation standard in the boardroom that devised it, but there are some long-term standards that I don’t believe are calculated into the mix.  The entire plan seems self-defeating to me.

On my way out the door, I made my grievances very clear.  I was, of course, professional throughout, but I could not abide by this new standard of the company.  It strikes me that this is a microcosm of a problem in America today: we don’t fight back.  Every time I expressed my concerns over this issue, I was met with responses such as: “Just do your job, and you won’t have a problem.”  I have also heard the response: “If you’re one of the top performers on the team, why do you care?”  We accept these things because we’re just glad to have a job, glad to be Americans, and in the end game it just isn’t that bad when compared to what it could be.  “You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill,” they say.  When do we turn around and say: “That’s ENOUGH!  That’s too far.  That’s an invasion I will not accept!”  Whether it’s our employers or our government, some of us feel a need to put a stop to it regardless of the manner in which others have twisted it and turned it to deem it acceptable.

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