May 30, 2020

Big Business Neglecting the Human Element

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen
Edited June 2, 2020

On this anniversary of my first weblog (began in 2007), I wanted to do something very personal that also including material that applies to many people in the workforce. Readers from The Company may wonder, "Is he talking about me?" For the most part, "you" will be a combination of people. The big business shall remain unnamed.

Working for The Company has given me insight into how important factors affecting production are neglected. Also, we are people and we have personal tragedies that require our attention.
Background image: Unsplash / Rupixen
This article may get me fired or I could receive some other form of retaliation, but I am presenting the truth and the situation as I see it. Some people can't handle that.

The Hazard of Hiring Humans

It's problematic for laissez-faire capitalism (see "Evolutionary Thinking and Human Capital") that they have to employ people. Not automatons, not (as Mr. Gordons says) meat machines, but people. We are not baunistic. Mayhaps some bigwigs would like to completely automate, but even androids need maintenance. (What was that old story about a world full of machines and one man's only job was to push the start button every day?) In fact, the OCR software is faulty (despite promises to improve it over the years), so people are necessary to compensate for its shortcomings. You hired people. It's a cost of doing business, and along with that comes the human element.

Don't be disunderstanding me, there are people in supervisory positions for The Company that have some compassion. They are in a tough place because they have to prompt the workers to meet production goals, and their supervisors seem to only know about figures on spreadsheets. (I can name supervisors who left The Company because of the draconian approaches of those in the high castle.) There are also some sidewinders among us who have no interest in actually working, slacking more often than not. They need to be motivated, trained, disciplined, or removed. When it's strictly by the numbers, things get complicated. I would never want a management position.

You hired people to do a job. We get that. There are standards and criteria to meet, even though some quantities were increased and took us by surprise. (I'll allow that some were lowered later because they were unrealistic, but not until after some people were made to go away because they weren't good enough.) A personal watchword for me is balance. There must be a balance between corporate interests and compassion for the people you depend on. Don't get me started on the abysmal morale or how I've been working for 5-1/2 years. There's something sinister behind the scenes.

"This is typical of big business!"

I know. My wife can tell you about the exceptionally crooked company she works for that violates county, state, and federal laws. Doesn't make it right there or here. Part of my problem is that I have a strong sense of right and wrong. I tend to agree with John Bernard Books, pilgrim.

Needing Proper Equipment

The Company does not equip us to succeed. Faulty software that is often tweaked for the worse and our recommendations that could increase productivity are ignored. (I started to ask one jasper a question, he finished it with what I was not asking, then rejected what I said!) Although some managers listen to the concerns of the people doing the work, these are seldom taken seriously or even implemented. In a college class on systems analysis, I kept insisting that those in power need to talk with and learn from the workers. Yes, I keep saying "workers" because that's how people like this view us.

It is an unfortunate fact that the IT department will make changes that have made the work more difficult, and are unwilling to do their IT jobs. (The attitude is, "Deal with it. Here's a workaround that slows your production even more.) What is more unfortunate is that The Company employs a variety of people with disparate education and life experience. I have education and experience in data processing and computer logic, but that's not important, is it?

Professional Difficulties

"Enough with the introduction, Cowboy Bob. What does this have to do with earlier in the week?"

Many of us work from home. Several others and I received emails from our superiors about low production. I was both hurt and outraged (more on that later), and my wife was worried again that I might have a heart attack. Yes, I have health concerns including diabetes and heart things such as high blood pressure. Here are a few salient facts:
  • The Company, unlike their biggest contractor, uses our own internet connections from many servers. These in turn connect to The Company's not-exactly-reliable servers. Plenty of opportunities for slowdowns and even disconnects; I've had to disconnect and reconnect a few times while working.
  • We are on partial layoff. In my case, three nine-hour says unless we are called in for more days.
  • My "week" was based on two days (Thursday was not a working day for me, and Friday was a bereavement day). Do we need to discuss insufficient data, a limited sampling? Not like I did forty hours, you know.
  • The queues I work on were run into the ground. Sorry, my production's down because I ran out of work that is due two days from now and I have to wait to be switched over for more — if available. This and the point above make it difficult to act as if we were in a crisis, such as when there was mandatory overtime for weeks — even through holidays.
  • As it was in the office, so it is at home: we can "push" a finished batch of data entry work and call for a new one. New batches are supposed to arrive quickly, but can take quite a while. Although there is a timer on it, the timer is not accurate. I checked. Thirty seconds of software time is actually much longer in reality. There are also periods that the system is slow between fields. Also, I have seen the meter actually report zero fields per hour. Not true. These things count against our production time. Waving it off as "we take that into account" is risible, and saying "the difference is negligible" conflicts with other things we were warned about that adversely affect our performance scores.
  • One of the things I discussed is that we have providers that waste space in fields on the form with unnecessary notes. OCR picks up that extraneous material and we have to remove it. We do not receive credit for fields entered, and the deletion time counts against us. It would be mighty helpful if providers knew how to fill out the forms.
  • When I see an error that a previous processor or I made while exiting the screen, I can go back using the "page up" key. However, it often skips back two screens. More time lost.
  • One mantra in The Company is that we are responsible for all fields, even those for which we are not prompted. That means we can receive and error for something we did not enter, so when we slow down, look it over, and activate fields, our production time goes down. Cue the song by Queen, "I want it all and I want it now".
  • Sometimes a field has been cleared and, in the process of filling it in correctly, the system jumps ahead several screens. Keystrokes are accepted as entries into subsequent fields. We must go back and find those, clear, and correct them. A tremendous amount of time can be wasted when this happens. I think from now on, I'll just let it go and damn the torpedoes. No more wasting time on backtracking. There are other quirks of the software that slow us down, but you get the idea.

Spying and Insufficient Information

Spying on employees' computer screens may not be reliable. Am I on Double Secret Probation?

"It's not spying, it's electronic surveillance!"

Sure, Comey, tell yourself that. But it's a mite dehumanizing, wouldn't you say? Although you admitted to being unable to see our faces, it is assumed that we are "staring at the work desk as if there is something magical there". Not helpful. As my readers know, I can give a prairie schooner-full of sarcasm right back — but I'm resisting that impulse. I've already told you about the appeal to motive fallacy, but when you add ridicule to that, it's counterproductive. By the way, has that spying software in which you put faith been calibrated? You may be looking at a screen that is not actively connected, or the software is acting up again.

You said you can't see our faces. Nor can you see our hands. There are times when I have been typing and nothing happens. It happened in the office but it happens at home as well, it seems a bit more. When you said, "I can only assume you're staring off into space or doing something not work related".

Listen up. In addition to established breaks, we're allotted half an hour each day for non-work things (unless management privilege was invoked and the rules were changed again). These items include restroom trips or grabbing a coffee; I have a container right here so I don't have to go to the kitchen to pour it. Or maybe the lack of activity is because someone is changing tracks on the MP3 player. In fact, some of us give back a few minutes by returning from our unpaid breaks earlyAlso, the restroom is ten feet away, making for a much shorter visit than at the workplace. The diuretic is annoying, but that's what I have to live with. When you cast aspersions on the people you work with and presume the worst about us, that worms the cockles of my heart and I'm sure it's great for morale.

I have much more to say about making conclusions from insufficient evidence (and it really gets me on the prod when people do that to impugn the intelligence and integrity of the people they depend on), but that will be in another article. We had a friendly working relationship, but I reckon you've changed, old son. That also grieves me.

Personal Tragedies

The past few weeks have been rough on me, and it was no secret. First, we learned that my sister-in-law had cancer and was moving away so she could get treatment. Second, Basement Cat was having serious problems. Third, The Company was having the sign-up for healthcare benefits and I have still not been informed as to the specifics of the coverage (I will probably have to take this to state or federal government officials). Oh, and there are the ubiquitous fears of COVID-19 that has lots of folks making chin music.

All three of these took my time and attention. Wednesday the 20th was the worst. Basement Cat's breathing was worsening, and I called the vet to say that my wife and I reached the extremely difficult decision to end her suffering (for details on this and why she was not "just a cat", see "Farewell to Basement Cat"). I sent the above video to the vet, and two of them agreed that the treatments could not work. It's mighty difficult to work with tears in my eyes and even having a couple drip onto the keyboard. Yeah, I cried. Do you care about my pain and my compassion for others? I was waiting for my wife to arrive home for that awful trip, and then she sent a message that her sister had just died. I was given permission to take the rest of the day off, but I soldiered on.

A Plan for Improvement was Demanded

I was told in the email to give a plan as to how to improve my production. Okay, I don't have any more crises or impending deaths on the horizon, so those distractions are gone. I can plow ahead even though there are software issues, working on items that are due a day or two in advance, and we were partly laid off for lack of work. Yes, I know there are things I do not see, but I can only respond to what I do see, see? Well, raising a fuss later about my benefits and legal things may take some time, but we'll deal with that later.

A Human with Priorities

My god is not money. Although money is helpful living in this world, I am a son of the Living God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Money did not die for my sins or bodily rise from the dead, and I'm rock solid in the Master's hand. Ain't nobody going to take that away. Fortunately for employers, followers of Jesus are instructed by the Bible to work for the glory of God and to try to do their best. If The Company equipped us to succeed and was insightful about what is actually happening, that would help me considerable-like to accomplish that goal. You savvy?

At the beginning, I said that this article was going to be highly personal. It was, but there are several practical, realistic things included that affect many people. But I'm not someone important in The Company, so I have nothing to say. A related article is here. Still love me?

"Whaddya mean, still?"


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