Panoptic companies, the Big Brother that stalks workers | Additional features


Moments like the end of the American War of Independence or the change from physical punishment to deprivation of liberty, At the end of the 18th century, they were the triggers that the prisons began to have many more capacity problems due to the facilities shortage. This situation was the trigger for the emergence of different theories to lighten the volume of prisons. The objective, the total reintegration of prisoners.

One of the most popular theories was that of the English philosopher and economist Jeremy Bentham. “The Panopticon”, said quickly, is a type of prison architecture devised to allow prison guards to observe, from a central structure, all the cells and movements of the prisoners, which would be placed on a circular surface around said structure.

The result that this theory was intended to achieve is that, as the prisoner feels watched, he himself endeavors to behave according to the law, either out of habit or because of the paradox of feeling observed by the omniscient guardian. In this way, it is intended that the prisoner becomes aware of his crime and understands what conduct to avoid.

Panoptic companies, the Big Brother who stalks workers



That said, there is no doubt that we could currently live within a business panopticon. Today, business companies subject workers to such high control pressures and performance evaluations that the fine line between the search for efficiency and the feeling of pressure has been crossed.

This makes us ask ourselves the following question: is this surveillance of the work environment understood as an attempt at improve worker efficiency and productivity or as a way to control them and dispense with the less trained?

From a business point of view, these techniques allow companies to evaluate the performance and interaction of their workers. It is important to note that, according to J. Bentham’s theory, it would not only be beneficial for companies but also for the employees themselves, since this type of practice would give them the skills and indications necessary to be better professionals. However, as we have commented previously, the risk of these theories is none other than that of crossing the fine line between productivity improvement and pressure submitted by company espionage.

Techniques such as the implantation of biometric chips identification devices heat monitoring on desktops or data analysis programs and effective time control These are just some of the actions that have generated the most popularity and controversy in the workplace. This type of practice is on the rise in the business world, as is the case with the growing feeling of rejection towards them.

There is no doubt that this type of technique or others of a similar nature are very delicate to implement. Therefore, as human resources advisor I must warn of the potential danger they pose and advise companies to be cautious. With a correct implementation of measures aimed at improving productivity, employees and society in general will understand that what is really sought is the “efficiency” and not control, interpreted as pressure or harassment.

Armando Reneses, labor and human resources advisor at Lawyers, a firm integrated in Grupo LABE.


Armando Reneses, labor and human resources advisor at Lawyers, a firm integrated in Grupo LABE.

At this point is where companies must provide transparency when implementing these techniques. Workers must know exactly what the business objective is to be achieved, making them part of the vision of the company.

In conclusion, such practices can be interpreted as a double-edged sword. What for many companies is a fully accepted practice that allows them to develop their full potential, for workers it can mean a tool of excessive control, subjecting them to constant hierarchical pressure. The consequences: labor unrest and even reputational consequences.

About the Author: Armando Reneses it is labor adviser and in human Resources on LABE Lawyers, a firm integrated in Grupo LABE. Provides services of human resources consultancy to SMEs and large companies, nationally and internationally, aimed at improving worker productivity and, with it, the firm’s competitiveness in the market.

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