Yesterday I was praised for my productivity. Everyone at work has set a pre-determined level of productivity. I’m not sure how the algorithm works, but it’s a bit more complex than more work equals higher productivity. It accounts for the type and difficulty of the work too, though I suspect in reasonably simplistic terms.

Yesterday I exceeded my target by 20%, which was excellent. At the same time though I was chided for my poor adherence, which was about 10% below the global target.

I’ve made reference to the adherence stat before, and what a meaningless waste of time it is. My failure is an excellent example of that. My adherence was measured at 89%. Looking at that you might suspect that for 11% of my time I wasn’t at my desk or working. I was puzzled at how low it was and queried it. The explanation was illuminating.

The reality is that over the course of the day I actually did 3 minutes of extra work. Bizarrely that’s one of the factors that makes me non-adherent. I clocked into my workscreen at 8.27am. The rule is that you can’t clock in any earlier than a minute before start time. On top of that I took my breaks late, and returned late – but didn’t take one extra minute. I did more work than I had to, but marked down because I didn’t click on the button at the right time.

That’s what this adherence boils down to. Literally you’re clock watching. When the allotted time ticks over you click on the button and you’re 100% adherent. You do the same when you return. It measures nothing meaningful in terms of productivity – unless someone is away from their desk too long – but is all about conformity.

It’s a big thing. They ride it hard. The people working here are very aware of their adherent status. Some of them get into a tizz about it. I sit there listening in as they fret over it, or as once more they’re reminded of their adherent status. It’s kind of funny, except it’s stupid.

On the surface it seems a pointless KPI – or at least a KPI that has gone askew. In real terms what it measures is not what break/work time you’ve taken, but rather your ability to click on the screen at the right time.

I’ve been in the job for over a month now. It’s fair to say that I’m a bit of an outlier in these parts. I’m well ahead of the curve in terms of my productivity, but I am also very much a square peg in a environment of round holes.

It’s been an eye opening experience for me. It’s many, many years since I’ve done work so simple, or in an environment so structured. For the last 15-20 years of my career I was in consulting, management or supervisory roles. I was trusted to use my initiative. It was assumed – rightly – that I would take responsibility for my work. A lot of that time I was in project roles, which could be pretty dynamic. There wasn’t always a set format or process or environment. I sat near the top of the structure, and even then the structures were much looser than here. The general philosophy was of trust and independence. It’s the opposite here, and it’s not accidental.

To find myself entangled within this structure and constrained within the attending culture is a shock to the system. It doesn’t sit well with me, philosophically and practically.

I’ve been a close observer of these processes and I’ve concluded that they’re all elements of a defined strategy designed to keep the worker bees compliant (adherent?) and pliable. Somewhere there’s a tome that sets all this out, call centre’s 101. It’s a form of social conditioning.

The measurement of adherence is a key component of that. It conditions employees to rigid compliance. As we’ve seen, the actual relevance of this stat is limited, but what it does is make the workforce jump. It creates a ritual of obedient behaviour, conforming to the standards imposed upon them.

That’s the stick if you like, and people are always being beaten over the head with it. The carrot is actually a number of trivial actions performed regularly, with the same attention to ritual. At regular intervals managers will go about with a large bucket of sweets and lollies, and even icy poles, distributing them between us. Every birthday is celebrated in the same way – workstations are strewn with balloons and ribbons. There’s cake and a card, much of which is common elsewhere – what’s different here is the unvarying routine. It becomes insincere in the formulaic adherence, but embeds further both an expectation and a ritual.

There’s something paternalistic in this, which fits the objective. We are dependent. Like children we are treated and grateful for it, and reminded at the end of it to return to our box and be adherent.

Positive feedback is broadcast loud. Every 30-40 minutes an email will be sent to all and sundry reporting the latest compliment paid to the member of the team. There’s something of the Ministry of Truth about this. It’s authentic I’m sure, but a bit surreal all the same, and feels a bit like re-shaping the truth. Often times the feedback is very effusive. I read with a wry smile on my lips, wondering who these people are who write or ring in such praise – I could never be bothered.

All of this shapes perceptions and behaviour. It creates an environment of mechanical obedience and performance. I’m positive that many people thrive with it because it removes any requirement to think for yourself. It seems pretty dull to me, and exactly against my nature – which is why I find it difficult.

I have a younger counterpart who is just as bemused, and occasionally frustrated, as I am. We both question why? That’s a non-adherent attitude here, but really the big difference is attitude. At some stage he will move on from this place because he’s not made for it. He has too much curiosity and aspiration for a place like this. I hope he does because there’s life out there and he needs to seek it. For the rest, they’ve made their decision. Me, I’m looking to tunnel out as well.

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