When workplace surveillance software targets hospital chaplains

The New York Times recently published a deep-dive into the rise of productivity-tracking software since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is part of the New York Times Company, which owns the New York Times; as far as I'm aware, we are not subject to any explicit employer spyware, but I tend to avoid using my work computer at home anyway.)

While the whole article is full of horrifically dystopian anecdotes, I think the one that stuck out to me the most was the impact that such spyware has on … clergy. From the article:

The Rev. Margo Richardson of Minneapolis became a hospice chaplain to help patients wrestle with deep, searching questions. […] Two years ago, her employer started requiring chaplains to accrue more of what it called "productivity points." A visit to the dying: as little as one point. Participating in a funeral: one and three-quarters points. A phone call to grieving relatives: one-quarter point.

Yet one particular healthcare provider insisted that metric-driven standards for spiritual communion were indeed producing superior results:

Allina [Health] was already keeping track of productivity, but now there would be stricter procedures with higher expectations. Every morning the chaplains would share on a spreadsheet the number of "productivity points" they anticipated earning. Every evening, software would calculate whether they had met their goals.


Sometimes the chaplains sacrificed points, risking reprimand or trying to make them up later. But their jobs depended on meeting the standards. So they shifted whom they saw when, the time they spent and the depth of their relationships with the dying, some said. Group settings like nursing homes were rich sources of points. Single patients in homes dotting the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area were not.


Allina's director of hospice, Lisa Abicht, said in a statement that the company was "extremely proud of the high-quality and compassionate hospice care" its teams provide. Since the productivity changes, she said, employees' goals and performance were more transparent, workloads were more balanced, and "patient satisfaction scores" and "employee sustainable engagement" scores were up.

What the company rep fails to mention is how many chaplains quit.

The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score [Jodi Kantor and Arya Sundaram / The New York Times]

Image: Public Domain via the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont