TESCO attaches tracking armbands to employees

Salon: "The Irish Independent reports that grocery giant TESCO has strapped electronic armbands to their warehouse workers to measure their productivity, tracking their actions so closely that management knows when they briefly pause to drink from a water fountain or take a bathroom break. These unforgivable lapses in productivity impact workers' performance score, which management then apparently uses to terrify them into working faster."


  1. “It seems Dave is even working during his bathroom breaks, here we can see from the readings he is moving many things a short distance very quickly, repeatedly for about two or three minutes.

    However, this does seem to be followed by another minute or so of complete inactivity before he leaves the bathroom.”

  2. Hopefully this inspires the workers to find a job where they’re something other than untrusted meat robots. Or they can tear the penis off their boss like the women did in that Emile Zola book. That’s my preference.

  3. I guess it would be expecting too much to ask that corporations use the logged data as a way to improve the workplace (and by extension, improved a worker’s motivation to do a good job). 

    I mean, what if instead of ragging on a guy because he took too long to get a drink of water, they installed extra water coolers all over the place so refreshment is always on hand? Collect more data, figure out if the extra water helped or not. If not, try something else. 

    That would be the exciting way to use this kind of tech. Using it as a dog leash is horribly irresponsible.

    1. Having Worked at Amazon where their version is a product scanner. Their is no way to use this tech in an exciting manner. The only people who gain are the company and the misguidedly competitive who give their best and sell their bodies for minimum wage to a company that does not give a flying (Insert expletive here).

  4. I’d like a Tesco warehouse worker to write to Tesco HQ and suggest Tesco warehouse management be fitted with armbands and finger bands to make sure they’re not going down the pub all day or spending hours playing angry birds. 

  5. Wouldn’t it be funny if this all turned out to be a sort of game of telephone, and the original report by a disgruntled ex-employee was really talking about an armband terminal for the barcode scanner they use to scan materiel in and out — it knows you took a break because the 3-minute pause between scanning the 3rd and 4th item on the manifest…

  6. In a past job we got a new supervisor who behaved much like this TESCO company. He was always getting on me about why I took so long in the bathroom, why couldn’t I wait for my coffee break to get a glass of water, and so on. After a week of this I turned to him and said “I work for a living, I don’t live for working. Find yourself some other monkey to do this job, I’m outta here”.

  7. The only time I’ve ever been fired is when I was working for a temp agency. They sent me to a plant where I was one of many workers putting perfume samples in magazines by hand. (Presumably they’ve managed to automate this process now, and maybe they could have then but were just too cheap to do so.)

    One of the other workers had been putting the perfume samples in wrong, so I and a few others were pulled off the line to go through the magazines that worker had done and remove and reinsert the samples.

    That night when I got home I got a call from the temp agency telling me I’d been fired from that job because my production quota had been too low. I explained what had happened, and, to their credit, the person at the temp agency told me, “I’m not surprised. We’ve had a lot of problems with this company and we’re going to drop them as a client anyway.”

    What I’m really trying to get at, though, is that sometimes employee productivity isn’t easily measurable.

  8. Anyone surprised by this kind of micro-monitoring has obviously never worked in a call centre. Everything from a 5 minute ‘comfort’ (read: bathroom) break, to your scheduled 40 minute lunch ‘hour’ counts against your productivity, and could lead to missed targets which could impact your pay, and ultimately lead to disciplinary action. All this was logged using codes on your telephone equipment, and checked constantly both by your line manager, and remote teams of HR snoops.

    I even had managers who tried to argue that the legally mandated breaks from intensive computer use (5mins per hour away from your desk) didn’t apply, because you could technically look away from your screen between calls. Never mind that you were literally chained to your desk by a headset you daren’t remove!

    1.  “legally manded 5 minutes per hour away from your desk”

      As a call centre worker in Australia this is new to me. While we were actually being trained about what ‘code’ to use in what situation, I asked about toilet breaks. the leader never gave a good answer and advised about trying to do it in your scheduled breaks.

      There is no logical code for it either, as they are all named.

      so I choose the “coaching” code because it implies I need help, I’m wondering if I should use “meeting” so I can say “I need to go see a man about a dog”. I’m itching for them to pull me up on it so I can tell them “I’m a rebel from the waist down”.

      Yeah, I’m looking for another job.

      1.  Yeah in the UK we’re relatively lucky, thanks to a lot of EU rules which our government is trying to scrap, at the same time as trying to destroy the unions.

        I definitely don’t miss having to record and justify every second of my working day, only to be challenged months later over why I spent 2 minutes more in the bathroom than other members of my team. It’s often a tactic used to bully staff with disabilities who might need extra time, or those who might be perceived as ‘troublemakers’ due to union activities or non-conformity.

        1.  Fuck, I am so glad that’s not my job anymore. My sympathies to you if it’s still yours. I swear, I’d stand in a shop doorway & sell the Big Issue again before I’d go back to that.

  9. I’m sure this won’t lead to an increase in monkeywrenching. No, not at all.  ‘Hey boss! The conveyor is broken again.’

  10. There’s a scene in Schindler’s List where an officer visits a workshop in a concentration camp and uses his pocketwatch to time how quickly a prisoner can complete his assigned task. Upon completion of the task, the officer calculates how productive the prisoner therefore should be over the course of the day, a figure that turns out to be much greater than the prisoner’s actual productivity. The prisoner is taken outside…

  11. This shit is so stupid. You are putting single metrics vs the cunning of human beings. The world is littered with these failed experiments. All that results is Kathy the reliable getting harassed -while Kim the lazy one, straps her armband to the forklift, and sleeps in the corner. 360 degree reviews by humans is the only way to measure humans.

    1. 360 degree reviews by humans is the only way to measure humans.

      Which does not end up better, maybe even worse. Technology does not render anyone crazy, crazy people do.

  12. MANAGER: Let me explain to you why we’ve called you in here. At first, we were impressed with your productivity. You were working almost 24 hours, 7 days a week. That’s when we got suspicious. Moments later, we caught this rat with your tracker armband as its collar.

  13. My wife used to work at Ocado where they increase the quotas every time the employees come close to reaching them. They have over 80% staff turnover in a year. I’m not surprised…..

  14. I worked in a Tesco warehouse in Dublin around 99-2001 and I can well believe this. they computerised the stock picking system while I was there and ran stats on people’s productivity. if you wanted to go off the floor to use the bathroom, you needed to use a one-time swipe card to allocate the time or it’d be held against your productivity.

    a few years after I left, I ran into a guy who was still there. he told me the monitoring had gotten worse…

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