update: employer wants us to install invasive GPS trackers on our personal vehicles if we use them for work

Remember the letter-writer whose employer was insisting on installing invasive GPS tracking devices in employees’ personal vehicles? Here’s the update.

The GPS installs went ahead pretty much as anticipated soon into the new financial year so I’ve had the wonderful contraption in my car for the last five months or so and … It’s been an interesting five months.

If anyone reading this is senior enough in an organisation to make a decision on whether to implement something like this then I offer the following cautionary points:-

1. Be as transparent and truthful as possible with everyone affected and give full disclosure about the type of device being fitted, how it fits to the vehicle and whether it can be truly “powered off” or whether it can just be set to “privacy mode” but is still effectively “on.” Make sure your management team have all this information to hand to answer the MANY questions that will be coming their way. If anything is fudged or half truths are given (and your staff will find out one way or another), it will be perceived as deception on your part and even if you genuinely have no intent to use the device punitively or use it to snoop on private activities, the whole thing and your intentions for fitting it will be viewed as suspect.

2. If the actual reason for fitting the device is that you suspect a group of employees (in this case field service techs) aren’t being as productive as they could be (but then other customer-facing roles like myself get lumped with them also so it doesn’t appear that they are being singled out) then make sure that you’ve correctly calibrated your expectations of their productivity. These folks regularly had to do crack-of-dawn starts to drive to distant customers to be onsite for 8:30 a.m. and had pressure put on them to skip contractually mandated breaks to hit response targets and were expected to put in quite a lot of unpaid overtime. Now that the GPS is fitted, they don’t really have much on an incentive to do this anymore and productivity has dramatically fallen. The selfish part of me hates the impact this has had on my customers, but the larger, more generous part of me is pleased that now senior management can at least now finally see in black and white just how hard these people work (and hopefully they get some real appreciation from it; I’ve personally sat in meetings with senior management where service techs were spoken about with much undeserved disdain).

3. Show respect for people. People have concerns about privacy because they have lives beyond the office. If you cannot see the vehicle usage when set to “private,” then state that clearly and unequivocally. Don’t muddy the waters by saying things like “There are hundreds of people in this organisation who drive on business. Do you think anyone has time or inclination to be looking at where you go shopping or where you are going on holiday?” because that implies that you CAN see private journeys and are choosing not to, rather than the journeys flagged as private are prevented from being shown to you. Preferably (IMO) an acceptable use policy should be drawn up clearly stating what data is collected and when and codifying limitations that the company agrees to abide by.

4. If you don’t abide by points 1 & 3, individual employees and the office rumour mill will fill in the blanks for you.

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. JB (not in Houston)*

    “individual employees and the office rumour mill will fill in the blanks for you.”

    This is so important and applies to every office. Sometimes management forgets this, or seems to assume that if no information is given, the topic won’t be discussed among employees. That is almost never the case. People will fill in the blanks, and that can lead to a lot of misunderstandings that ultimately hurt the organization.

    1. beetrootqueen*

      ain’t that the truth. why the hell don’t management ever realise this. when my boss left under a cloud (all sorts of reasons none of them pleasant) the leadup which everyone knew was coming was super awkward because even though they ddin’t tell us why he was leaving everyone knew

      1. Joe X*

        Yup. I used to work for an IT consulting firm where most of us weren’t in the office very often. When people left, the most we’d get is “Fergus is no longer with the company. If you you have any questions, talk to your account manger.” Often we didn’t even get that and would just hear through the grapevine or find out when we tried to email them and they were no longer listed.

        I asked one of the bosses about it once, because it came off to me as if the person was leaving under circumstances that would look bad for the company and/or the person who left. She said if they gave more information then people would just have more questions. It was at a time when job-hopping in IT was extremely common (it probably still is) so most people left simply for other opportunities. But it always felt to me that they were trying to hide something.

        1. babblemouth*

          My company has a very diplomatic yet blunt way of formulating these emails, so that in the nicest terms, with just a tiny bit of reading between the lines, you can figure out if Fergus truly got a really nice job somewhere else and we wish him well, or if Fergus was an asshole of his manager showed him the way out, or if Fergus maybe just didn’t want to be here anymore.
          It allows everyone to save face, and at the same time leaves no room for doubt of what happened.

          1. Alienor*

            Same! Our unwritten glossary for decoding announcements goes something like this:

            X has accepted a position with such-and-such company – means what it says
            X is leaving to pursue other opportunities – may mean they were let go, may mean they left for a competitor
            X is leaving to spend time with family – always means let go if it’s a man; if it’s a woman who recently had a baby or has small children at home, it *may* mean what it says, or it may not
            X’s last day was yesterday and/or effective immediately – a straight-up firing

            Of course that’s if we actually get an announcement…at least half the time the news only travels by grapevine, or you find out when you try to call/email them and they’ve disappeared.

          2. Julie*

            My last job didn’t even tell anyone I left. They just changed my email to have a “no longer here” message. I told the people in my area I had a new job but anyone who only worked peripherally to me had no clue.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          Whenever people left at the job I just quit, no one was notified that the person was leaving if they gave notice and, the day after their last day, a company-wide email went out saying “Soandso is no longer an employee of AwfulCorp as of (insert date)”. To this day I have no idea if these people quit, or were fired, or what. I assumed either they got fired or they quit and were shown the door rather than serving out their notice, but when I gave notice they let me work a few days of it and told no one I was leaving, so… who knows.

        3. Girasol*

          It beats NOT saying that Fergus is no longer with us. A company I worked for used to do that, sort of a “he is dead to us now and we do not speak of him” silence. People who needed him for something were left to deduce it from the dust gathering on his chair. Knowing that questions were frowned upon, people would ask peers not bosses: “I need something from Fergus. Is he still here??” Instead of keeping a secret, the method spawned the wildest of rumors, the sort that made the actual unpleasant circumstance look tame by comparison.

          1. Gadfly*

            My last job I sometimes wouldn’t know for weeks. I was an assistant/office support for advertising sales people. It wasn’t unusual for me not to see them. So if no one told me,I would keep emailing and calling about issues with their ads. And after no answer I would start copying in their manager. A couple of the managers didn’t bother to tell me even then, so several times a person I directly assisted was gone a month or more before someone realized I didn’t know. (And by then I was in trouble for not knowing/annoying the managers).

      1. Joseph*

        It’s also fairly common that any rumors that spread are actually *far worse* than the truth could ever be.

        1. Joseph*

          Oh yeah. These “almost entirely right but not quite” rumors are actually the most pernicious. If 90% of the rumor is right but 10% is wrong, people will confirm various details of the basics and assume that (a) the entire story is right and (b) you’re lying when you try to correct that last 10%.

    2. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      Thiiiiiiis. And whatever people assume is likely to be worse than the truth, AND once people suspect the worst they’re not likely to believe your reassurances that it isn’t that bad, whether true or not.

      (And trying to prevent people from discussing or speculating is likely to make things even worse.)

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Absolutely. I agree with Artemsia that the rumors will be right sometimes. But I also agree that once the worse case scenario rumors start, they are pretty hard to eradicate.

    3. Natalie*

      SERIOUSLY. My office is butting up against this right now, where radio silence following a large, business changing deal for us is freaking people out and leading them to start looking for other jobs. I just don’t understand how part of our management can so stubbornly not see the cause and effect here.

        1. Jennifer*

          I honestly don’t think anyone cares any more if the good people jump ship. Everything is easy come, easy go, don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, it seems.

          I don’t know how we got to that point.

          1. Zombii*

            The recession happened, employers had their pick and anyone who left was obviously stupid because they should be damn grateful anyone hired them in the first place.

            I hope more employers will start to realize the recession is over and they’ll need to do more than the basics of paying someone for work in order to keep good employees. (I’m not overly hopeful but I’m still hoping.)

    4. Lana Kane*

      I can’t agree enough. When my department was re-org’ed (yeah, that’s how you spell that) into another, the radio silence from management was so unexpected and shocking that there were only 2 possible conclusions to draw: 1) that the management team was just that clueless, or 2) that something Really Bad And Job Ending was about to happen. Of course, people ran with #2 when the real answer turned out to be #1 – because no one could believe that management could be that obtuse. Unfortunately, by the time it was revealed to be #1, the damage had been done and the working relationship between the team and management was almost unfixable.

      1. Girasol*

        Yes. “There is no layoff planned. The best thing you can do right now in these difficult times is to stay focused on your work” causes everyone to be sure that there is a layoff and focus on their personal career moves. OTOH, is there any better way to answer layoff rumors when they’re on the right track? “There is a layoff being planned now but we don’t have all the details ready to share yet” isn’t much improvement on the white lie although it burns a little less trust.

        1. JustaTech*

          At my company we’ve turned “stay focused on your work” messages from management into a drinking game because we’ve heard them so often from so many iterations of management. (Like, yo, we’ve all been here 5 years and you’ve been here 6 months and telling *me* to stay put?)

        2. Kristine*

          >“There is no layoff planned. The best thing you can do right now in these difficult times is to stay focused on your work” causes everyone to be sure that there is a layoff and focus on their personal career moves.

          This happened at my last company. “Focus on your work” message came in March, with assurances that no layoffs would be happening whatsoever. Come July, about 1/3 of my team had jumped ship, myself included. We just didn’t trust it.

          Two weeks ago I heard from one of my former coworkers who had stayed. The remaining 2/3 of my old team was laid off, along with some other departments in the organization.

        3. Julie*

          My husband’s employer has been doing layoffs the past 16 months. They had to give public notice so everyone knew it was coming. The first wave didn’t have an exact date but following the notice window it happened within 2 weeks and it was rough. After that the team leads would tell their team “next one will likely be in February” and to project managers worried about staffing they would say something like “and I’ve been given notice our team will/won’t be involved and I can tell you…” and it was usually something like 3 people gone, we’ve offered buyout retirement packages, etc. We know we still have 1 more in February and then likely nothing till a big merger happens which will take a year. The fact that my husband could lose his job is scary but how open they’ve been and the benefits they’ve offered has really helped. The fact that they took away all the office parties too though cost them a lot of goodwill.

      2. FormerLibrarian*

        I had to laugh hysterically the day after I was laid off when I heard the press release stating that it was only upper and middle management affected. Company had spent years assuring me that I was not management and I never would be.

        Is there a way to put on your resume that your position was promoted after it was eliminated?

    5. Jadelyn*

      I had to nudge my senior leadership to include communication to both exempt and nonexempt employees when we were making a payroll change (unrelated to the FLSA changes) that only affected exempt people. They were taking a “it doesn’t affect them, why include them?” to which I replied “because they’re not segregated on their own little island and they talk to exempt people and I think we’d rather they know more than they need to about something that doesn’t affect them, than end up with rumors because they’re hearing bits and pieces from coworkers without seeing the whole picture?”

      People. Talk. To. Each other. A lot of managers could skip a lot of grief if they just kept that in mind.

      1. Girasol*

        Most managers were in their subordinates shoes at some point. Why don’t they acid test their own statements: “Would I have believed this when I was at the bottom of the food chain? What would I have thought it really meant?”

    6. LawCat*

      100% A+++++

      At my last employer, I switched teams internally when I was there. Old Managers were completely opaque when it came to promotional possibilities (think a team of junior teapot makers hoping for a chance at intermediate teapot maker). They never told the team what they were doing to try and secure intermediate teapot positions whether adding to the team or converting lower level to higher level (totally a possibility with our employer). They provided little guidance on what it takes and skills to develop to be considered for intermediate teapot maker (any guidance was provided on a personal favoritism basis). Result: high levels of gossip and paranoia about What It All Means, and enormous brain drain on a team that desperately needed staff that knew how to make the particular style of teapots the team was responsible for. When I quit, I told one Old Manager that I really didn’t think there was any place to go on the team (this was among many reasons I quit, Old Managers sucked in many regards, this is just one piece). Old Manager said she was “very concerned” about how much turnover there was on the team, but I never saw anything change afterwards.

      New Managers were completely transparent about what steps they were taking to secure intermediate teapot maker positions on their team. New Managers were happy to coach ALL junior teapot makers (not just selected favorites) on the skills needed and provide them the type of work to develop those skills. There were never promises that the positions would materialize or that current members would land them, but the team actually knew New Managers were fighting to get the positions and training staff up for them. New Managers were completely transparent if the positions did not come through, they would provide references. Result: no gossiping or confusion about New Managers’ plans for the team, and high staff retention and satisfaction. (I’d still be there but for some stuff that went on in the organization that all stemmed from Old Managers.)

    7. JaneB*

      My current boss keeps saying “why are there so many rumors here?” and “my job would be so much easier if you all stopped talking to each other”

      Um, we gossip because no-one tells us what is actually going on and the formalised and elegantly presented management briefings we occasionally get (including from Boss) are so often contradicted by what actually happens that they feel like lies.

      I wish he’d listen to someone and realise HE could improve the ‘rumor culture’ by being more open and more honest, especially about things he doesn’t know (not fix it – we’re academics and we like to talk and some of us are socially inadequate and many of us have been here for over a decade, there’s always SOMETHING to talk about that will feel like rumor culture to him – he thinks we should all just lock ourselves in our offices and do our work without any conversation, but that’s HIS preference – and as we do have our own offices, people who share it just stay in their offices and use email to communicate, and the rest of us chat in the break room or before/after meetings or over a coffee or in one or other of our offices)

      1. Jaguar*

        I had to BCC rather than CC employees because “if they know each other’s e-mail addresses, they’ll talk among themselves.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        LOL. Nature abhors a vacuum. If bosses do not provide info, employees will. And skip the part about accuracy.
        The worse the boss the more the gossiping/rumor mongering goes up.

        I remember one boss, in an almost child-like manner, was totally bewildered by all the talking that went on with his subordinates.It takes strength to lead people. This means you can’t run down subordinates behind their backs to other subordinates. This means if you decide to do A not B on Monday, you can’t change your plan just because it’s Tuesday. You have to be consistent, which takes strength.

        I recently saw a FANTASTIC example of great leadership. I wish I could link it but it’s way too identifying. Anyhow, in a nutshell, the leader laid out in PLAIN language, “We have had problem X. Here are the steps we have taken so far. Here are the people we have drawn in to assist. We have gotten result Y. Because of result Y we have done the following steps, 1, 2 and 3. We expect to see A, B and C in the near future.”
        It’s probably not very clear in my example here, but the leader did not miss a single thing, he anticipate almost every question an average person would have. He did not wait for the question to be asked, he answered it as part of his explanation. And, he also allowed a Q and A period. There were not many questions because everyone felt they had all the info they needed.

        It takes planning to address the group with a clear and comprehensive message. This is not something many people can do off the cuff. Part of what goes into crafting the message is thinking about what the recipients’ needs and concerns are. Anticipating questions and answering without waiting to be asked adds to credibility and openness.

    8. Elizabeth West*

      Yep. A coworker and I were discussing NewExjob’s transition with our department–we were getting almost no information, and we both were unsure whether we’d even have jobs once it was all said and done. I went several months only hearing speculation from someone on the inside (it was phrased like, “We’re not sure what we’ll be doing but [your main tasks] will probably go away, and then we’ll blah blah blahdeh blah.” I couldn’t tell WHAT I was going to be doing, and it really fed my anxiety.

      When I tried to ask my boss about it, all I got were very vague assurances. Very hard not to assume the worst under such circumstances (as it turned out, the job changed into exactly what I was afraid of–I saw the listing). I don’t know how things turned out for my coworker, though I hope okay.

  2. Sydney Bristow*

    Sorry you actually had to go through with it OP. Glad you can see a bit of the silver lining with the data helping show the field techs were actually working more than management assumed though.

    I’m so sick of people’s responses to privacy concerns being (a) nobody is actually going to look through all of that or (b) if you don’t have anything to hide you shouldn’t be worried. Those do not adequately respond to my concerns!

      1. paul*


        I share what I choose to share. I got no interest in my boss knowing I went to the bar 3x last week, or that my wife and I drove to our favorite toy store!

        1. Alton*

          Exactly, and it’s not always a matter of being ashamed or going out of your way to hide stuff, either. Privacy is important because it gives you the option. And some amount of compartmentalization and boundary-building is normal and even expected.

          And something can be very personal without being shameful.

      2. Blue Anne*

        Yes! It’s either that, or:

        “What are you doing talking about your life on social media, are you stupid? Someone could go through everything and see that you like that coffee shop and they hate it and you’ll get fired!”


        “Why do you care what kind of data there is on you? No one cares enough to go back through everything and see what you’re doing!”

      3. OlympiasEpiriot*

        And maybe I don’t. Or, if I do, maybe I’m doing so under a pseudonym and being careful to limit identifying descriptions.

    1. Beancounter in Texas*

      Agreed. Human policies cannot prevent a person from accessing and looking at the data if the data isn’t secured. Maybe an employee may not have anything that seems embarrassing from the outside to hide, but maybe they don’t want you to know that they attend a Mormon church or visit Neiman Marcus at least three times a week. Maybe the employee is visiting AA and that is not for an employer to discover, that is only for an employee to divulge. None of these “nothing to hide facts” are an employer’s business.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Or the employee or a family member gets counseling, or receives other special services, or whatever. So many things people may not want their employer (or friends, or others) to know, but which don’t negatively impact the employer at all.

      2. Alton*

        That’s a good point I hadn’t considered. It seems like this could potentially lead to discrimination concerns if the company was able to see what place of worship an employee was going to, which medical offices they went to, etc. It might be tenuous, but I think companies should just generally be cautious about putting employees in a position where their privacy is in jeopardy.

      3. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

        And what if Andy “It’s the Five-Month Anniversary of that Fake Interview I Lured You Into!” Von Creepster works there? And now has access to potential victims’ routines, routes home, etc. I don’t want to sound hysterical, but this would REALLY bother me.

        1. RVA Cat*

          No kidding! Even if the stalker isn’t an employee, any employee who has been stalked will justifiably NOPE on this.

          Note that the data on Smart Tags to go through tolls has been used as evidence in divorce cases. Do you really want your company hauled into court for this data if somebody’s stepping out on their spouse?

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          OMG YES! I read a story recently about Uber employees using the “God mode” to keep tabs on exes’ and celebrities’ whereabouts. Creepy as hell.

      4. fishy*

        Exactly. I don’t have to be doing anything wrong to feel like maybe I don’t want random coworkers knowing that I go to a health clinic that specifically serves the queer community.

    2. Audiophile*

      I hear B far too often.

      With all of the loopholes and holes in technology and all of the recent hacking scandals, I’d be concerned about where the data is being held too, not just who’s looking at it from your company.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Exactly – honestly, even if management said they couldn’t see some parts of the data, I wouldn’t believe it for a second. There’s no such thing as secure data in this day and age, that’s been proven time and again. So an employer can make all the promises they want about confidentiality of the data they collect, but I wouldn’t trust those promises anyway.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      I will admit there was a time when I thought the “if you don’t have anything to hide, then you shouldn’t be concerned” philosophy was not that big a deal. I think because it wasn’t something I’d ever given that much thought to before, I didn’t realize the larger implications.

      It was right after 9/11, when people were talking about how to improve airport security. Then I started to hear, first hand, how people from other countries were being treated when they traveled. I’m in IT, so I work with many people from India. At the time, we were all traveling weekly to a client site on the East Coast. Just about every person had a story about being routinely pulled aside for secondary security screenings, being questioned about why they were traveling, and so on. One guy who was from Iran was telling us about how he’d gotten upgraded to first class. The meal was a chicken breast or something, but there were no knives supplied with the meal, so no one could cut their food. I said something like, “Did you ask for a knife?” And he said, “Are you kidding me? An Arab asking for a knife on a plane???” He laughed when he said it, and everyone else did too, but really, that’s the reality he and many of my other colleagues had to live with. It was then that I realized how insidious that line of thinking is.

      And it hasn’t gotten any better since then. I traveled to the UK last year with a colleague from India, and we had to go through Calgary. In both Canada and the UK he was pulled aside and asked much more invasive questions than I was. Racially profiled on 2 continents in under 24 hours.

      1. Gabriela*

        Ugh, yes. One of my coworkers was detained *this year* coming back from India for 12 hours. Never told why- just held in a room without passport until they were let go.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        A friend DID ask for a knife on a plane. The passengers on either side of him nudged him HARD and shook their heads noooooo. It was clear to them that my friend had momentarily lost sight of the surrounding context.

        I do agree that “if you do not have anything to hide” only works if you are dealing with thinking people. It does not work with scared/paranoid folks.

    4. seejay*

      what’s hilarious about the privacy concerns and “no one is ever going to look at it” is that we have a letter posted just today about a clear intent to invade someone’s privacy by someone who snooped around on the internet, found some *gasp*, scandalous material, and wants to go ratting it over to someone’s HR to get that person in trouble.

      People *do* go looking stuff up so trying to say “oh, even though we track it all, we’re not going to do anything with it so don’t worry” is moot when that data could actually be harmful to a person’s reputation.

      1. Artemesia*

        And while they may not do it routinely to many people, they have the power to zero in on and go after particular people. Imagine some of the bosses we have read about here who seemed to be harassing OPs.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        And just because “no one is ever going to look at it” doesn’t mean no one will stumble onto it. I accidentally stumbled on the double secret manager bonus file. I can’t un-see it.

      3. irritable vowel*

        Right, or the one a while back who was inappropriately using her system privileges to track a coworker’s card access to an office because she suspected they were using it to take naps. And both that one and the one today truly thought they were in the right. No matter how locked down data is, there are always going to be people who shouldn’t be accessing the data who will, whether it stems from a misguided belief they should be tracking someone’s behavior that’s not their business, or from actual ill will.

      4. Sydney Bristow*

        Yes! Or even just, sure current boss I trust you and believe you won’t go searching through all of this but that doesn’t mean your successor won’t.

        NYC is in the middle of something like this right now. The city offered official identification for anyone, but it was aimed at getting undocumented people a form of official ID so they could use services. Well, now the city has a ton of records of who in the city is undocumented and are trying to get rid of the records because of fears of what the incoming administration is going to do with them.

        1. Emi.*

          Did they mark IDs by immigration status from the beginning, or is it just concern that “people who have this ID” will be taken to mean “people to deport”?

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This would only happen if citizens did not register for a municipal ID and if the City kept immigration information with applications (which they should not). I’m not calling into question your account; just saying that those are the two most basic criteria of any municipal ID program (recruit as many people with as many statuses as possible, and do not under any circumstances collect information regarding immigration status).

    5. Turtle Candle*


      So… for example. I have a fondness for very silly shapeshifter romance novels. I mean things with titles like The Jaguar Shifter’s Curvy Bride or Billionaire Werewolf. I wouldn’t brag about reading them, but I also don’t consider it a critical moral failing. The books are light, fun, and a great way to kill a few hours on the bus.

      But the thing is, compartmentalization is very, very human–and as such, I would not want to be forced to announce to my CEO that I was reading Lumberjack Werebear on the commute in to work. If it came up naturally in conversation I might very well say it! I actually had a conversation with a VP-level Marketing person last year where we were sharing our favorite fun/silly reading; she was a big fan of spy romances, and in that context I totally copped to a fondness for shapeshifter romances. (I actually got her hooked on the firefighter werebear series….)

      The issue is that technological disclosure of data is stripped of that kind of context. In the context of discussing favorite beach reading, sure, I’ll say “I just finished ‘Bear the Heat’ and it was delightful!” But that doesn’t mean that I want my CEO to be getting a list of everything I’ve bought off Amazon, including Fire Bears books 1-4. In the one case, it’s a very specific context. In the other case, it’s stripped of context. It’s not that I’m ashamed of liking some fluffy light reading about werebears in love. It’s that context is important.

      (And pretty much everyone knows this. The person who speaks to their husband/wife, their boss, their puppy, their Starbucks cashier, and their grandmother in exactly the same way is vanishingly rare. Some people like that are out there, but they are the dramatic minority. We, almost all of us, adjust and contextualize and compartmentalize to some degree.)

      So to loop back: the LW is absolutely right. When these kinds of potentially-invasive things happen, what people want to know, at heart, is “what is the context in which this information will be used?” And if you can’t answer that to their satisfaction, yes, of course they’re going to be nervous and upset.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          :D :D :D

          I don’t want to derail us too far, but I’d be happy to drop some recs in the weekend open thread! I would be happy to share my favorite fluffy books about werewolves/bears/lions/tigers/panthers/dragons/griffins in love.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I can’t tell you how happy I got when I realized that I could read my trashy books on my kindle WITHOUT ADVERTISING IT TO THE REST OF THE TRAIN every day.

        1. Kate*

          That’s why I had a SONY ereader from the moment I could afford one… I was damned tired of being twitted about my reading choices by strangers or someone who had to grab something from the depths of my purse!

          1. VintageLydia*

            One of my favorite fanfic authors writes long works. Like well over 200K words long. Download that ish on the Kindle and I’m. Good. To. Go. So much nicer than on my screen.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          It has been such a delightful benefit to my Kindle. I got it originally so I could bring tons of books when I travel, but I’ve discovered that now I can read “Little Lady Agency” books everywhere and not be judged for it!

          1. animaniactoo*

            I got mine because our brand new, bought only 3 years ago and designed to have extra space bookshelves look like they’re throwing up again. My husband’s solution is that clearly we need a bigger home. I don’t entirely disagree with him, on the other hand, it’s a rather expensive solution to our problem…

            But I’m finding all sorts of fun stuff here today that sounds like it’s next up on my “guilty pleasure” list. 8•D

        1. Turtle Candle*

          It is 100% real (and readily available on Amazon). It is, in fact, an entire series, with other books titled things like Sawman Werebear and so forth. I’m fairly sure she switched gears to firefighter werebears in large part because she ran out of synonyms for ‘lumberjack.’

          But I will save more on this topic for the open thread. :D

        1. Turtle Candle*

          That’s the author of Lumberjack Werebear and sequels, yes! Although I read a number of authors in that genre.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            Are there any in this genre that are pretty tame? I ask because I try to avoid anything too racy, but the new PopSugar Reading Challenge has “A book from a genre/subgenre you’ve never heard of” as a category, and this definitely fits the bill. . .

      2. Fact & Fiction*

        You all are speaking my language because I write urban fantasy/paranormal romance. And I agree with a lot of your points regarding privacy.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I am actually embarrassed right now that I didn’t even know shapeshifter romance novels were a thing. I am very much looking forward to the weekend open thread.

      4. Brogrammer*

        I agree with you that people who speak to their spouse, boss, puppy, cashier, and grandma all in the same way are vanishingly rare… but I’m now tempted to grab my boss’s face and ask him who’s a good boy.

        He has dogs. He’ll understand.

    6. Tiger Snake*

      I think it was someone on this very site who said what has become my favourite quote on the subject:
      “If you think you have nothing to hide, why does your house have curtains?”

      Because privacy and secrecy are not the same thing, and people need to remember that.

    7. Daffodil*

      “Commander Vimes didn’t like the phrase ‘The innocent have nothing to fear’, believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like ‘The innocent have nothing to fear.'” – Terry Pratchett

      I’ve been in IT in positions where I could see information like people’s web browsing habits (on their work computers). And I can confirm from personal experience that a) it’s true that most people most of the time are not going to misuse that data, it’s just not interesting and b) there will always be exceptions to a.

  3. ArtK*

    Or, even better. If you’re having doubts about productivity in the field, then get out of your office and see what they actually do.

    I went off (somewhat politely) on a management consultant who kept pushing me to tell him “what KPIs you use to track your employee’s productivity.” My response was: “I know what they do and therefore how well they do it. I don’t need numbers to tell me that.” Managing by numbers is easy and convenient for the manager, but almost always produces bad results.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have worked in too many settings where no one thought clearly enough about what the outcomes should be and therefore no one made sure the organization was productive and doing a good job. This is a huge problem in any school situation. And yes, numbers can mean you measure stuff that is easy to measure not what is important because that can be hard to quantify and it also can become so cumbersome that it reduces productivity.

      Evaluation is difficult. Some way of quantifying outcomes or at least clearly stating outcomes that are observable is just important.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — I see organizations all the time that have a general sense that things are going reasonably well, but when you look at their actual outcomes and how much of an impact they’re having (these are nonprofits) … not so much. It’s important to get clarity around what you’re aiming for and then measure your progress against that. It doesn’t have to be numerical (sometimes it can’t be), but it should lay out a “finish line” so that the staff person, the manager, and the organization know if they’re hitting it or not.

      2. Trig*

        Plus some people like numbers, and like to think in numbers and KPI’s. And when these people are the high-ups who decide where to make the annual layoffs, well, those numbers can go a long way in showing the value of your team. Especially when your team is producing, say, documentation instead of software, or more intangible things without obvious customer-facing output, like UX.

      3. LBK*

        Ugh, yes. My old manager harped constantly on this “push a button and be able to see all my metrics” ideal and it took the person who replaced me almost a year to finally convince him through an exhaustive process analysis project that it just wasn’t that simple. There was no number that you could calculate that accurately correlated to the behaviors he wanted to drive. The only way to ensure people were making good calls was to sit and listen to their calls.

        1. Beezus*

          And even if you do have numbers that correlate, think about the tradeoffs someone might make to hit that number, and whether you want those tradeoffs, and if not, you might need another metric or auditing to make sure you don’t have people making the wrong calls just because they’re chasing a number. Hello, Wells Fargo.

          1. LBK*

            Yep. We had someone who had come from being a rockstar in a scripted call center (call number, ask one question, if yes, transfer to sales, if no, hang up, rinse, repeat) so she had endless stamina to do rapid-fire outbounding all day, but our work required a lot more critical thinking and problem solving than she was used to so her call quality in our department was garbage. My boss had been using number of outbound calls as his main performance metric and had to scrap it because by that measure she was amazing, but she barely produced any results and was so bad she ultimately got fired.

            1. Beezus*

              Yep. I just dealt with someone who was cherry picking easy work out of a pile and leaving the more complicated work for her teammates, because she could tick more items off the list that way. We weren’t even tracking number of items completed, she was just highly motivated by being able to mark things as DONE, but it meant she wasn’t doing any of the heavy lifting, which in the long run would have allowed her knowledge to atrophy and made things harder on her teammates. We changed things up so that work was divided and assigned by one team member instead of allowing items to be self-assigned, and the division process doesn’t allow for cherry picking.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yesss. We had a problem with someone who was cherrypicking easy bugs to fix and then trumpeting his results–things like, Developer A would tackle some complex performance issue bug report and spend a day resolving it; Developer B would grab five tiny typo-fix type bug reports in that same period of time and then strut around about how he was fixing five bugs a day. (And never mind that anyone with access to the string table–including me, Not A Programmer–could have done the same.)

                He actually managed to sell this line of malarkey for a bit, until our PM was looking through the bug tracking software (not “checking up” on anyone, just taking a look at what kinds of issues tended to reoccur and how workload balancing was shaking out) and noticed that Developer A’s resolved bugs were always of the “fixed a cacheing issue that cause load slowdown” and “improved the search results relevance algorithm” type, and Developer B’s resolved bugs were all in the “typo fix” and other low-hanging fruit type. Developer B might have been resolving five times as many bugs, but he was less than half as productive in terms of what we needed developers to be doing than Developer A.

              2. Artemesia*

                When the IRS evaluated based on cases closed they closed a lot of cases where they hosed little old ladies for $200 they didn’t really owe, but didn’t tackle the people cheating millions on their taxes. What is measured and rewarded will drive out more valuable activity.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          With service calls if the calls per day goes up then the call backs (to the same place) will also go up. If service calls per day is low chances are pretty good that call backs will be low also.
          When one metric moves so does another metric. Sometimes the numbers move the same way and some times the numbers move opposite of each other. Some bosses fail to understand the relationships between the numbers. They want low response times, high calls per day and low call backs. You can’t always have all three. You have to chose.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Absolutely agreed. I think the problem is people decide they want to do something, first, and then they impose program evaluation post-hoc. Numbers can work if you design them correctly, but they’re not inherently more valid than qualitative observation. And regardless, before you launch a program, you should see if it’s actually effective (and you should have an idea of what “effective” means and how you’re going to measure it).

        This is one of the major oversights in nonprofit management that drives me out of my mind—either people have no legit measurement criteria, or they’ve chosen the wrong measurement criteria and are insanely dogmatic about measuring (to the exclusion of actual program delivery/quality). And as a result, folks don’t actually end up helping anyone or delivering high quality services because they’re throwing money into a black hole. I’ve only met 1-2 organizations that incorporated measurement into their program design and work plans from the front end and then ensured that those measurements corresponded to grant obligations and could be measured so they could course correct if things were not working (or discontinue a failing program).

        /end rant

        1. Koko*

          I’m in marketing for a nonprofit organization, and I have a form with a set of standard questions we ask internal clients to fill out when they need us to do something for them. One of the questions always, “What do you hope to get out of doing this? How will we know if this was worth the time and effort that went into it?” Not just, “We want to raise awareness through a share image.” How do you define raising awareness? Is it shares? comments? likes? What would be a good number of those to you and what would be a crappy number of them? Your metrics can be numbers (17 people asked questions on the donor call) or they can be qualitative (the questions people asked were really thoughtful and showed a deeper engagement with our issue), but be able to articulate an outcome and not just a process.

          It makes it so much easier when doing post-mortems to have clearly laid out your goals before the project and compare them to what you actually achieved.

    2. Lora*


      Today I had a conversation with the manager of another department who asked me why I had formatted a spreadsheet a certain way. I said, because that’s the way the current end users have it configured and they fill it out *consistently, correctly, in a timely fashion* and I don’t want to mess that up. He asked how I knew they did that.


      I had to actually open several failed past attempts by other managers to get them to record and transcribe the same information, and explain that I personally had sat with them while they did this, discussed it with them, and they liked it this way, and there was no reason not to continue. He replied, but if you did it differently, it would be the same information, just recorded a different way.

      I… I… I don’t even know what to say to that. It’s not Friday yet either.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I wonder how he would like it if I replaced the steering wheel in his car with a pair of joysticks. It IS the same data, after all, just delivered in a different way….

        …but I don’t want it done to my car, please.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “Let the people doing the work decide how best to handle what is needed. Some methods naturally encourage greater accuracy than others, the logic is inherent in the set up. No, the logic is not immediately apparent to people who do not do the work on a regular basis. In some cases the answer is familiarity, here, let me hand you a Dvorak keyboard and you can explain to me why you want your qwerty back.”

    3. Koko*

      I strongly suspect this kind of dysfunction you and LW describe is present at a certain fiber optic TV and internet provider. The day my tech was supposed to be coming in the late afternoon, he called in the late morning to say he was still on an early job and had a few between that one and me, so he couldn’t make it until tomorrow. The next day I was first on his ticket and he ended up at my house until 4:00 pm trying to solve a particularly stubborn problem he was having getting my equipment activated

      And of course he had to call his other jobs for the day to tell them he would be late or not make it, and one guy even started yelling at him, like it was his fault. It seems to me that Telecom Company doesn’t have enough techs working for the volume of appointments they book.

      (Aside: They are also apparently using a terribly inefficient system. It should work like a cab service – there should be techs who are just on the clock for the day, and a dispatcher that routes them to the next job nearby when they finish a job. With enough techs on staff you could probably get arrival windows down to 2 hours and count on someone becoming available. Instead they are making customers block of 4-6 hour windows and assigning each tech a fixed route for the day, so that if they get held up along the way everyone later down his schedule suffers instead of some other available tech who finished a job early being sent out there.)

      1. Nic*

        Having worked on telecom, I can unfortunately say that pretty much all of them work the waythe one you dealt with does. They have 2 hours (generally) per call, regardless of travel required or specific situation. If they don’t get things done on time they get a big black mark on their record. I always felt for the field service techs.

      2. StuffedSuit*

        LW here,

        I’m only tangentally involved with the service department in my company, but I have been privy to high level conversations about how service is managed.

        Effectively they always want to run the department lean, it’s more cost effective for the company to have fewer techs running around like blue arsed flies than it is to have an overabundance of techs with some sitting idle for part of the day waiting for work.

        The problem is when you mix things like response times on service level agreements into the mix, if a customer insisted on a 2 hour SLA, and that’s what we needed to offer to win the deal, then that is what the service department is tasked with providing, if you have an abundance of techs sitting idle, then no problem one can take the job and be on his way immediately. However if your 2 hour SLA job comes in but all of your techs are already out on calls, the guy closest to the customer is stuck on a difficult repair so won’t hit response, there is a guy just finishing up but he’s 90 minutes drive away, it all becomes very complicated…

    4. StuffedSuit*

      LW Here

      In the field service hierarchy it’s mostly only the senior techs and the service supervisors who actually turn a screwdriver, the regional managers who push the KPIs generally aren’t from a technical background, the regional manager I’m most familiar with used to be a salesman and freely admits he hasn’t got much of an idea what the techs do on a daily basis. I have no idea if he actually goes out to customers with them or not, somehow I doubt it.

      Generally speaking if you’re good at fixing stuff and good at dealing with customers… well you’ve basically done yourself out of ever getting promoted above service supervisor, you’ll be a service tech of some description till you get fired, quit or die.

  4. KR*

    My good old fashioned Live Free or Die instinct prickled at this company. Good advice for future managers considering this, OP.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Me too. That kind of thing, if an employer insisted on installing a tracking device on my vehicle…nope. I would walk out on the spot if I had to. Like hell will you INSTALL something on my PERSONAL CAR.

      1. Koko*

        I used to moonlight as a delivery driver a few years back. Our restaurant participated with GrubHub, so internet orders came in to a different printer than in-house orders and payment was handled a little bit differently but otherwise they were treated the same. Until one day the manager wanted all of us drivers to download the GrubHub app, which would give us directions and allow GrubHub to have online order tracking, oh, and also it would track us.

        I’ve never seen such total solidarity. The staff were mostly young men in their 20s and early 30s, half of them were immigrants sending money home. And every single one stuck to their guns and refused to install the app. Manager couldn’t fire his entire staff over it, so he just caved.

      2. MinB*

        My last straw at my last job was a new employee handbook that, among other invasive things, said they would be able to search your home computer and personal phone if you had ever used them for work. It was a small nonprofit – no one had company phones or laptops, so all of us had used our own devices at some point.

        I was ready to walk out that day but got them to back off implementing the handbook while they ‘reviewed possible changes.’ I got a new job about a month later and I never ended up signing the handbook agreement. New job is so much better about trusting and appreciating employees.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This was definitely a situation where my anti-authoritarian Americanism was appalled and so annoyed (it gave me the same reaction as when I learned that London is the most CCTV-recorded city in the world—big brother, much?).

  5. Emi.*

    What’s the precision of these devices? Could you go out to a big field and drive your car to shape the words “LIVE FREE OR DIE” or “MASS SURVEILLANCE SUCKS” or “THIS IS A TERRIBLE POLICY”?

        1. Robbenmel*

          I am related to someone whose actual name is Paige Turner. Married name. Her parents didn’t do that to her.

          1. Bellatrix*

            Aw :) I’d presume she likes it, otherwise she would have kept her maiden name. I certainly think it’s awesome!

    1. irritable vowel*

      I’ve seen people do challenges where they use Map My Run or another app to write out their names in their exercise routes, so I think you could totally do this!

      1. Jadelyn*

        I was already cackling quietly at Emi’s comment, and then this escalated it to a full-blown ugly laugh. YES PLEASE GIVE ME THE MEANS TO DRIVE THE SHAPE OF A DICK AND/OR AN UPRAISED MIDDLE FINGER INTO YOUR DATA.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This was actually my immediate first reaction. It reminded me of the woman who got into training for a half-marathon by running around Manhattan drawing rude phalluses (phalli?) using her fitness tracker’s GPS mapping function.

    2. Lora*

      Bet you $5 there already exists some open source Arduino or Raspberry Pi type of thing that will change the identifying data from your personal car to the CEO’s…and “correct” all the location data to the latest Yelp review locations for the business establishments of your choice.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      In college, many years ago, a group of kids took graph paper and mapped out the door room windows. Next they figured out which dorm rooms had to have lights on or off to spell out a certain word. People on campus could not see the pattern because they were too close. But people on the nearby highway could see the F bomb in it’s full glory and they were the ones who called the cops. (It was the 60s, this was very funny.)

    4. StuffedSuit*

      LW here,

      Haha, gave me a chuckle but trust me the accuracy isn’t that great.

      Underground car parks seem to be it’s Achilles heel, looking at the mapping data after parking in one of these yields some interesting results.

  6. MoinMoin*

    I was thinking how well this letter could be adapted into a Black Mirror episode, but then I realized they could probably do a whole AAM themed season.

    A terrifying, awful season.

  7. No Name Posts*

    It was fascinating to me how useful a tracking system was in determining how a Polish truck rammed into a Berlin Christmas market a few days ago.

    But employer-mandated GPS on worker vehicles? No.

    1. Anna*

      The thing is, they would have figured that out on their own; they didn’t need GPS to do that. It may have made it quicker, but with the prevalence of databases and vehicle registration, it would have come to light. GPS is a convenience and a tool, but it is the kind of tool that can be used to decide guilt or innocence.

      1. Artemesia*

        And if they have some workers whose job puts them driving in the field constantly there is no reason if they wanted to track, they couldln’t JUST track those workers rather than installing this on private cars of workers who rarely are in the field. Whole thing is dumbassery.

  8. animaniactoo*

    If nobody cares about this extraneous to them data, then nobody should have a big problem about making sure they’re not collecting it.

    And while you may not care today, I am all about not waiting until the horse has left the barn to lock the door.

    On a side note: Heh heh heh. So they were looking to prove the techs were dawdling and squandering time and instead proved the exact opposite? I love that. I in fact particularly love that they expanded the use to the whole company just to look like they weren’t targeting the techs when it would have been completely appropriate to target the techs and say “we’re looking to see if we can find ways to increase efficiency” instead of “we think you’re slacking so we want to check”.

    1. Marisol*

      I know right??

      “now that the GPS is fitted, they don’t really have much on an incentive to do this anymore and productivity has dramatically fallen.”

      hahahahaha serves them right!!! talk about unintended consequences.

  9. Mike*

    > “There are hundreds of people in this organisation who drive on business. Do you think anyone has time or inclination to be looking at where you go shopping or where you are going on holiday?”

    I don’t need to look at it personally. That is what I have programs for. Big data is a thing and there is a lot of information out there about how to get started.

    1. Government Worker*

      Seriously. Not to mention that one of the things I do when I’m trying to validate something I’m doing with a big data set is to look at the patterns of outliers. In this case that would mean purposefully uncovering the person who drove to Disney World on vacation instead of driving around near the office in Toledo that week.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Wanna see what neighborhoods the employees live in? – it would take one minute. Where they vacation? – one more minute. How long they stay at shopping centers?- It would take me 15 minutes to build the model.
      And when you give this load of golden data to an analyst, it is so tempting to look at this kind of stuff.
      …so tempting.

      1. GiantPanda*

        There are far more “interesting” things to check than your employee’s shopping habits. Just raise an alert if their car is parked for more than 20 minutes at any of the following:
        – competitors’ offices
        – employment lawyers
        – oncologists
        – Planned Parenthood
        – churches / mosques / temples / … I disapprove of
        – …

        1. StuffedSuit*

          I have already had an occasion where I’d called in sick and I had to stop my other half using my car to go shopping.

          They say they can’t see it when it’s set to private, but do I believe that? Nope.

          If I have called in sick but the GPS has recorded the car going to a shopping centre, do I think that this is going to be used against me either overtly or covertly? Yep!

    3. Tiger Snake*

      Yeah. The people who ask this question have clearly NEVER met a data analyst. They absolutely will mess with that extraneous data. Patterns are just really, really fun to play with.

      1. paul*

        I can confirm. My boss walked in on me a few weeks compiling really, really weird (and I have to confess, mostly pointless) profiles for different client needs in different areas. It was so hypnotizing….

      2. BananaPants*

        I’m not a data analyst, just an engineer. But give me a nice juicy 20,000 unit data set with 15 different settings recorded for each unit, and I’ll have myself a good day playing with the data to see what I can tease out.

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    In the United States, there are over 27,000 pages of federal laws alone. There is literally no human being on earth who would know all of them in and out.

    To say that if you’re not doing anything wrong so you shouldn’t worry about surveillance is ridiculous. You don’t -know- if you’re doing anything wrong! In some states, it’s a crime to possess a lobster. In Virgina, driving 80+ mph is an automatic misdemeanor. Those are only state laws; I have no clue about all the federal laws.

    OP, can you clarify your second point? I don’t understand why productivity went down after the surveillance device was installed. Can someone explain?

    1. Temperance*

      Because the GPS tracks the movements of the field techs, so now they are required to only work their scheduled shifts. Prior to Big Brother, the techs had been doing unpaid overtime before their scheduled shifts actually started.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep, this is a huge, huge thing. Many techs/service people often work off the clock or drive on personal time just to cram in more calls per day or whatever the magic number is this week. If the magic number this week is parts requests, employees will start their day an hour early or more so they can grab a part from a cohort rather than ordering that part and get dinged for requesting parts. No matter which magic number management picks it usually involves working off the clock.

        1. StuffedSuit*

          LW here, yep hit the nail on the head.

          The KPIs our field techs are expected to hit are six calls per day, 85% “effectiveness” (calls closed as fixed without recourse to ordering parts, callbacks or carrying over to the next working day) and to hit the contracted response (which typically for most customers is 2-4 hours from placing the service request)

          This was workable up until about eight years ago when larger groups of techs tended to cover quite small areas, usually centred around a major city. It has ALWAYS been a soft expectation that techs would work unpaid overtime and through their contracted breaks as the absolute priority to the business is productivity and hitting service level agreements, this always was the norm for field service unfortunately and isn’t limited to our company or even our industry. Back in the day though the techs used to work “job and finish” once their calls were done they went home, and if they’d been stuck on a call into the evening, their manager used to let them know that they didn’t have to hit the road till 10-11pm the next day.

          Then, in 2008 the recession hit, many techs were laid off and the geographic areas grew in size dramatically. Before most techs would have to travel a maximum of 30 minutes from home to their first call and typically most calls would be a 10-15 minute drive from one to the other, it soon became normal for the first call of the day to be the furthest away from the tech’s home address (so the bulk of the travel time was on their time and not company time) sometimes a 90 minute to 2 hour drive with varying travel time between calls. The omnipresent threat of further layoffs was used to quell any dissent from the ranks. The results were predictable enough, turnover of techs has been brutal over the last few years and there are only a couple of the really experienced (albeit now Dead Sea levels of salty, but too valuable to lose) techs still with the company, most get their training, stay a year or so then move on.

          But that applecart has been well and truely overturned…. the positive thing is it no longer allows anyone the excuse of being ignorant, no-one can be forced to forgo their contractually mandated breaks or work unpaid overtime. It’s forced our management to recalibrate their expectations based on the actual black and white data they are now getting and that can only be a good thing.

          … I just wish it didn’t have to come at the cost that it did. i.e everybody’s privacy.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, that part confused me too. I think what she’s saying is that when the company switched to the GPS tracking, they changed metrics from focusing on number of appointments completed or punctuality to just whether or not they were in the car driving from the start of their shift to the end. So it removed the incentive to do anything other than be in the car at the beginning and end of your shift.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Which doesn’t make sense. If management didn’t think the techs were being productive, then why change the productivity metric to GPS tracking?

        1. LBK*

          Beats me, but that’s the only explanation I can come up with for how those two things would be connected.

          It’s not that uncommon though – think of all the bosses who manage primarily by the timeclock instead of by actual work produced. I think it’s because butt-in-seat metrics are typically easily accessible, quantifiable and justifiable, whereas less concrete or simple measures require harder conversations. It’s the lazy/cowardly manager’s way out.

          1. Artemesia*

            They probably thought they would catch them cooping in parking lots or taking lone lunches at the diner or whatever.

        2. Ren*

          They probably thought the GPS tracking would show a lot of dawdling and taking too long on jobs, but the letterwriter mentioned that the techs were previously under pressure to miss contractually mandated breaks and were doing a lot of unpaid overtime. If they now have a way to record all of that then they could start insisting on getting the breaks promised in their contracts, or if they’re hourly on getting paid for that overtime. Management might have looked at the cost and decided they didn’t want to pay for that and so only have people work their contracted hours?

          There might be safety/liability issues as well, like with heavy goods vehicle drivers missing breaks and getting into accidents, if the tech could prove the company was making them work lots of overtime or miss rest breaks that might get the company in hot water later on.

    3. CM*

      I believe this OP is in Europe, where the privacy laws are MUCH stricter than in the US. A commenter on the original post made the excellent point that this company’s activities are most likely violating EU law. EU law requires data to be collected only for limited and specified purposes, and for companies collecting data to fully inform the data subjects and allow them to opt out of uses of their data that they didn’t originally agree to. These workers could make a complaint to their Data Protection Authority.

    4. CM*

      In the comments to the original post, the OP said there are UK laws that require driving time to be classified as “work time” for EU workers with mobile offices (meaning they don’t have a fixed office, they drive to customer sites). And that there’s a law about how much rest they need in between shifts. So if you used to have to drive 2 hours each way to get home at 11 p.m. and then leave again at 5:30 a.m., but need 9 hours of “rest,” now that all your driving time is tracked you need to work shorter hours.

    5. Tiger Snake*

      They found the same thing when they starting putting GPS in trucks, actually.
      For these offsite jobs, a part of your working hours are your actual travel time to those offsite locations. In order to meet deadlines and other pressures, people speed and skip the breaks they are legally required to take (every 2 hours in Australia).

      When there’s a GPS, people stop doing that. Because now there’s evidence that they’re breaking the law; no more ability to fake your written book and say “I totally took a 15 minute break after two hours, and i did not speed on that highway; there was just no traffic in the town today.” So people stop doing those extra little, illegal things that gave them better timing and better stats.

      The police are happy, because the drivers are more well-rested and safer. HR is happy, because now their meeting their obligations to protect their workers on offsite travel. But management isn’t happy, because now you only travel half the distance in the same time you used to.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        No idea how it works in Australia or the UK, but cops in Germany are very particular about mandatory breaks and rest times for professional drivers.

        Getting caught too often will cost you a lot of money.

  11. Temperance*

    This letter lit me off with a white-hot rage. There are few things I hate more than intrusion into my privacy, to the point where I quit doing a volunteer project at work because they wanted background checks for volunteers.

    I probably would have quit once they put a tracking device on my car, or at the very least put the wheels in motion to GTFO.

    1. burnout*

      Yes, 1000x. There is no way in HELL I would let my employer put a GPS tracking device on my PERSONAL vehicle. I would either (a) demand a company car for business purposes or (b) quit and find another job.

      Far to over reaching for my taste.

      1. Temperance*

        Exactly! Plus, I am in a one-car household. As much as I want to protect my own freedoms, my company has no business knowing where Booth is driving around to.

        1. anonderella*

          Holy gods, just got your Booth reference – that you’ve been making as long as I’ve seen you comment.

          You have no idea how many times I read that and went, ‘ oh Booth is a fun nickname/pseudonym for an SO – just like that guy on Bones.’

          karate headslam, breaks desk.

          (so this comment isn’t a complete waste, I would also quit my job before allowing this; it is way too intrusive for a work relationship for me.)

      2. Joseph*

        Given that it seems like most people at the company don’t drive for work, if it was my personal vehicle, I would regularly come up with excuses to swap cars with my wife for the day – car’s in the shop, she needed the storage space, didn’t feel like driving stick, needed to check the oil, needed to refill tires, personal preference, and so on.

  12. Tuesday*

    I’m unclear about the situation with the techs. They were busting their butts to get work done, even though it meant putting in extra, unpaid time. But then once their vehicles were being tracked, the time they spent working was on the record, and so they stopped working the extra time. In other words, before the trackers, they were being evaluated on the work they were getting done, and now they’re evaluated on the time they spend, and there’s no benefit to them for putting in extra time. Am I understanding that correctly?

    If that’s right, I hope that causes management to do some soul searching about how they treat and evaluate their employees. (I know, that does not sound likely with this particular company. But jeez. How could they justify being so overbearing after this?)

    1. Temperance*

      What I’m assuming is that the people who thought Big Brother was a good idea were under the false impression that the techs weren’t working hard enough/diligently enough, because they’ve never done this work themselves.

    2. Joseph*

      It’s also possible that the trackers made it actually impossible to do the job in eight hours. IME, delivery drivers and tech support often takes small off-the-books shortcuts (leaving early morning to dodge traffic even if it means unpaid trips, skipping breaks, eating meals while driving, minor speeding, etc) in order to keep customers and bosses happy. Now that their travel time and driving hours are being recorded, they can’t do any of these.
      Given that management has clearly established a culture that says “We don’t trust you”, the techs certainly aren’t going to risk breaking any rules, even if following the letter-of-the-law means sacrificing productivity.

    3. Bwmn*

      I’ve found that when it comes to travel times in metro areas – assumptions on where people live and how much time takes can vary wildly. I’m in DC, and if you have a bias of how long it takes to get from A to B from inside DC, it would easily confuse how you think about travel from the Virginia/Maryland suburbs. Additionally, lots of people in the area don’t even know how far out some people live while still working in DC – be it West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Delaware. So if labor laws around driving count the time you leave your house and return home, if you’re under the assumption that everyone is coming from a certain radius and driving to other points within that radius then that could easily blow back.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is my undestanding of what happened, too. On the plus side, now Company knows how many FTEs they need to hire to meet minimum productivity levels. And at least now the techs are not working unpaid overtime to meet unrealistic and bogus targets. I find the Company’s entire attitude and approach in this to be vulgar and contemptible.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s the tip of the iceberg. One company, well-known, ditched all it’s senior techs. They hired new techs at lower rates and gave them trackers also. So now there are new people, less experience who might take a bit longer to do the work and they are tracked while doing it. This is not a kind company so words fly about. To people on the inside this company is falling apart, outsiders do not see it.

        The senior techs had trackers too. They had to install the tracker themselves ON THEIR OWN TIME.

        Our courts cannot keep up with all that goes on out there.

    5. StuffedSuit*

      LW here,

      Before the trackers, it was a case of ignorance is bliss. The techs have their KPI’s to hit, their calls per day, response times etc, how they hit those targets was essentially their problem but woe betide them if they didn’t.

      The trackers have taken the sole accountability away from the techs, now there is data that shows how long a tech was parked up at a customer, of how long he/she was stuck in traffic, how many times they had to go round the block to find a parking space, all recorded for posterity leaving no room for doubt where any of those precious working minutes went.

      But this creates a dilemma, no-one in senior management wants to admit that what they expected previously was unreasonable and in breach of contract, but they want those productivity levels back….

      1. Tuesday*

        Thanks for the clarification. In a way, it’s satisfying to have proof that management was so wrong about their workers. And yet, not at all satisfying if they don’t do the right thing, admit their mistake, and take action to fix it. Probably not much chance of that happening, eh?

  13. LBK*

    Ugh, #3 is the exact problem with surveillance programs that rely on the benevolence of the people running them. You may trust everyone that’s there now, but you won’t always be there and you never know who else is going to eventually have access to that data and what they might do with it. “No one is looking at it” may be completely true today but it’s not reassuring for the future if the person setting that expectation isn’t around to do it anymore.

    1. k*

      Like if they hire someone from the Worst Boss of 2016 post. They managed to crash weddings and chemo sessions already, lord knows what they would do if they had access to tracking devices!

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        That’s OK, at least to me. In a right vs wrong debate, I’ll stick to the right side and push back on the wrong.

      2. sstabeler*

        it’s a disciplinary offence to prevent them tracking you off the clock? I’m not sure I’d believe they don’t look at the “private” journeys then.

    1. StuffedSuit*

      It’s not plugged into the OBD II port unfortunately, this was the leverage I was hoping to gain initially as I could disconnect the device when not on the clock.

      Nope, it’s wired in deep behind my dashboard with lots of those tamper proof tags that irrepairibly tear if you mess about with them (not that I’ve attempted to “interfere” with the unit at all *ahem*).

      1. Amazed*

        I recall you mentioned something about these devices counting as aftermarket modifications, which raise insurance rates and interfere with manufacturer warranties on the vehicles. Wouldn’t that qualify as incurring expenses in service of the business?

  14. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, I’m so sorry that your company has been so short-sighted, and I’m outraged/livid that they still rolled out this wrong-headed policy. But I do feel a sense of karmic satisfaction that it backfired with respect to the service techs. Serves the managers right—next time, they should spend a day in the field trying to provide service and see what it’s like.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Also, I wanted to say that your reflections and advice are on point and really helpful/awesome (sorry that I forgot to write that in my prior comment).

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It used to be time clocks. We would say, go ahead, install those time clocks and then you will see exactly how much work gets done here.

  15. sstabeler*

    one thing that has occurred to me- what guarantee is there that the device will be removed if/when you quit? That, and if all the protection there is for private journeys is they are flagged as such, to me that isn’t good enough. Off the top of my head, they can likely either code a way to access the private data, or redefine what private data is.

  16. A. Nonymous*

    As a technician myself this makes complete sense that productivity went down. So many people in upper management have literally no idea what we do. They assume that we run by the same metrics as office staff (We don’t). Since we don’t have “real” engineering degrees we must be goofing off or more work would get done. It just feels like we’re not trusted by the people who approved to hire us and that they feel our job is somehow disdainful. When my network chose to go into a clock-in time for lunch, we stopped working thru or leaving our lunches early aside from major emergencies.

    We no longer clock in and out for lunch

    1. StuffedSuit*

      I get the sense from the upper management that I have interacted with that it’s worse than you say. It’s not that upper management just don’t know what techs do, it’s that they don’t care to know what techs do. Or even worse they see them as a liability when in fact contracts are won and lost on the basis of service. Over 50% of our sales referrals come through techs, some customers will actually pay more for a contract from us than a competitor because they’ve come to trust and rely on the service they get.

      The sad fact is when the techs are doing their jobs properly, stuff just ticks along, customers aren’t ringing the phones off the hook and it looks like from above that they don’t actually do that much. I was with the company when they laid off half of the technical staff in 2008 and it was not a fun time, there was a hilarious time early in ’09 where a regional manager was pleading with staff to get in touch with any of the laid off techs who wanted their jobs back as we were about to lose a major account.

      None of the laid off techs came back (I don’t know if they got in touch or not) and we still lost the account..

  17. Keith R*

    If the information is out there, then someone will eventually peek at the data. Probably no recourse for the person snooping, but if you are seen being somewhere that upper management disagrees with, you better believe you will be on the hot seat.

  18. Rik*

    If you use your personal vehicle for business, it is none of the employer’s business to track that vehicle without compensation for being tracked besides the car allowance and or mileage. If an employer believes by tracking an employee via GPS and expecting more production results….just the opposite will happen. Take this from a field service tech for 30 years and been around. The employee now, as mentioned above, will no longer skip their allotted lunch time, and break times, to meet scheduling deadlines. Now, they will, as I have, will take every second coming to them while parked in a parking lot somewhere. That also means during those breaks, no business whatsoever will be performed….emails, phone calls etc. etc. No matter how they promote a “non surveillance” type of monitoring, it is exactly that. When a copier company is attempting to save money, the service department is always the first for cuts, then sales. If you think admin is going to take a hit and contribute to the cause of saving money, you are on a deserted island! Until copier companies start to unionize/oranganize which I am still surprised after all my years, they havnt, you are at the mercy of every cut, every program, every whim without say.

    1. Rik*

      Another quick addendum to add above. If you use your own vehicle for business and you are being tracked by GPS, there are many “alternatives” . GPS jammers work great but are illegal. You can also buy or build a Faraday cage to block GPS tracking. Just got to be smart when blocking as if corporate sees a trend to your blocking they will know you are doing it. The day they search my private vehicle for any freedom from surveillance “weapons” will be …the day!

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