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Sunday, April 21, 2013
On April 14, The Roanoke Times published companion articles on the front page of the Sunday Business Ticker section entitled “A harsher workplace” and “When technology makes work harder,” written by Alana Semuels of the Los Angeles Times. The gist of the articles is that companies are treating employees unfairly, monitoring their every move and making them work harder with fewer benefits.
I do not doubt that there are companies and managers who are quite demanding of their workers. As an employment lawyer who has represented Virginia employers, large and small and in a wide variety of industries, for almost 24 years, however, I take issue with several of the exaggerated claims in these articles.
In the technology article, Semuels asserts that employers “monitor keystrokes, measure which employees spend the most time on social networking websites and track their movements inside and outside the office. ... They can monitor ... how much time [employees] spend in the bathroom.” Similarly, in the workplace article, the author proclaims that “bosses pepper employees with email messages at night and on weekends” and “monitor employees’ Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.”
In my experience, these sweeping generalizations do not represent the mainstream. Employers in Virginia (and elsewhere) are appropriately interested in productivity and efficiency. But employers are not counting how many minutes Johnny spends in the bathroom.
Moreover, managers do not spend their day behind closed doors reading Johnny’s Facebook postings to view his vacation photos. The reality is that management has limited time and, quite simply, better things to do. Companies occasionally monitor their computer systems or investigate reported violations of social media rules, not to oppress employees, but to respond to legitimate concerns — like when Johnny discloses company trade secrets.
Semuels is correct that human resource professionals today do much more than plan parties and publish newsletters. There are currently more than 250,000 members of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest association devoted to HR management, and HR professionals have more stature within their companies.
I disagree, however, with Semuels’ contention that HR professionals now primarily “evaluate employees based on statistics to figure out who is dispensable” and are “more likely to be terminating employees than helping them get ahead.” Again, this does not represent the norm. My observation is that HR professionals spend the overwhelming majority of their days (and nights) working to advance the interests of their employers’ most important assets, their people.
In a highly competitive global economy, enlightened employers know that they are only as successful as the people they employ. Treating them like dirt is not a viable business plan.
By and large, Virginia businesses are doing their level best to hire and retain the best employees, and to treat and pay them fairly. The work they do makes the commonwealth stronger, and is a far cry from the Orwellian business practices described in these articles.
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