Capitalism demands profit. An infinitely increasing, all-devouring profit that will one day eat the stars themselves, and maybe also make a few bucks for the shareholders. Companies now desperately work their employees to the bone, constantly instituting productivity schemes that slowly turn our reality into an episode of Black Mirror. And not even a good episode, but one of those middle ones you skip after reading the synopsis. We're talking about how ...
For big businesses, increasing productivity is a tightrope act. The trick is to keep productivity as high as possible while keeping your suicide net budget as low as possible. Which is why places like Amazon love the idea of gamification, whereby they turn menial jobs into games. Unfortunately, they mean The Hunger Games.
Gamification is used in everything from education to marketing to trick people into doing what they hate with the promise of a gold star, a victorious "ding," and a position on the leaderboard. Inside businesses, gamification has only one purpose: maximizing productivity. And Amazon, not content with forcing their shelf-stackers to merely pretend they're playing the suckiest game of Tetris, has now started making actual video games to help their warehouse workers stomp on the shells of tedium.
In five of the company's experimental warehouses (think Fallout Vaults, but with more dystopian gloom), the work panels now show colorful games complementing various tasks, each with names pulled straight out of the hokiest freemium apps. So in "MissionRacer," every box an employee grabs with the robo-arm speeds along a race car, while "CastleCrafter" lets the ones putting away said boxes build a digital fortress for their glorious god-king Jeff Bezos. They're like medieval serfs, except serfs were allowed pee breaks.
According to the Bezos-owned The Washington Post, "The games simultaneously register the completion of the task, which is tracked by scanning devices, and can pit individuals, teams or entire floors against one another." So not only are you competing against your co-workers all of a sudden, but like an impatient older brother, Amazon is always ready to yank the controller out your hands if you don't git gud (at late capitalism).
HubSpot, a marketing/spam tech startup (the worst combination of words that doesn't include "anal" or "leakage") had the most interesting euphemism for being shitcanned. Instead of getting fired, laid off, or terminated, employees were " graduated." Management would send out a cheery email letting everybody know that someone was going to be using "his superpowers in his next big adventure!" Which is about the time people started noticing he was gone, his desk was cleaned out, and there was an acrid smell wafting from the company incinerator.
Of course the company wasn't culling its ex-employees -- that would have been too merciful. No, to proclaim their undying love for their executioner, any fired employee had to go to their own job's funeral. They'd attend a "graduation party" with their still-employed peers, smiling and drinking while working out how much a kidney goes for on the black market these days.
When called out on this, HubSpot did eventually end the practice, admitting that it was " disrespectful and misleading." But not without trying to justify their use of such Orwellian claptrap with the claim that they had a great "alumni network" they kept in touch with. You know, the same way your parents keep in touch with your pets on that farm upstate.
Steve Kersten, as befits the CEO of a company that deals in plumbing, is utterly obsessed with the bathroom. Seeing his beautiful profits go down the drain, he blamed a single cause: wanton potty breaks. According to Kersten, 120 hours of precious faucet productivity was wasted in one month alone, so he went out to tell his assembly line workers they'd better turn off their own faucets quick.
To stop the lavatory lovers, his company, WaterSaver, had a key card system installed on its bathroom doors. Then human resources informed everyone that using the bathroom for "60 minutes or more over the last 10 working days" would be deemed "excessive" -- so best save up your precious six minutes a day of rationed squatting for Taco Tuesdays. But six minutes was still six minutes too much. So for each day a worker didn't go to the bathroom at all, the company would reward them with a $1 gift card.
The union fought WaterSaver over the policy, noting that every doctor in the world agrees that holding it in for eight hours straight is ruinous for one's health. We'd like to encourage all WaterSaver workers to invest their bathroom minutes right into the bottom drawer on Kersten's desk.
Amy's Baking Company, owned by convicted felon Amy Bouzaglo and her husband Samy, a man who randomly tries to whack people, is a famous restaurant. Not for its baked goods, but because it was the only establishment Gordon Ramsay ever walked out of because he, Gordon Ramsay, found the owners too rude. The Bouzaglos were downright tyrannical bosses, dictating that employees weren't allowed in the building the minute they stopped working, even to wait for someone to come pick them up. They were also, per an imaginary health code, banned from opening any food or beverage containers while on the job, which is a tough act to pull off when you're working in a kitchen.
Employees weren't allowed to even talk to each other because it "may result in possible harm," which sounds more like a threat than an HR amendment. They could also be instantly fired if they showed the bosses any "attitude," which included anything from asking questions in the wrong tone to simply being in Amy's line of sight.
But Amy's Bakery Company employees didn't just have to endure this abuse; they had to pay dearly for the privilege. All tips the waiting staff made were to be confiscated by the management, since, according to Amy, "they don't deserve those tips" anyway. Staff was also forced to work every single weekend and holiday, and had to pay the Bouzaglos $250 for the temerity of wanting to spend Thanksgiving with their family.
There was even a non-compete clause to safeguard the company's trade secrets, which is typical for Big Pharma CEOs, not teens working for confiscated tips. So after being fired, these minimum-wage workers weren't allowed to wait tables anywhere within a 50-mile radius. Naturally, it didn't take long for Amy's Bakery Company to develop a reputation as the North Korea of restaurants. They shut downin 2018, and the Bouzaglos fled to Israel. Chef Amy does still sell her baked goods -- online, so no one ever has to deal with her in person.
Today's youth-orientated tech companies offer all sorts of weird perks, like massages, ping-pong tables, and whatever else to make you forget you don't have dental. One of the weirdest Silicon Valley perks has to be paying employees to freeze their eggs. But make no mistake, the only reason Silicon Valley is interested in keeping your eggs whole is so that they don't have to help pay for the omelet.
To female employees over 30 and still single, tech companies like Facebook and Apple started acting like nosy mothers worrying they'll never see any grandkids. Now half the major players in Silicon Valley are offering to help women save their remaining eggs by freezing them on the company dime. But many see egg-freezing subsidies as a blatant bribe, encouragement for female workers to stay in the rat race while also shaming those unwilling to take them up on this generous offer -- those fools opting to let some stupid kid gobble up all that unpaid overtime instead.
After all, if it was really about the kids, tech companies would offer other, more reasonable perks. Like, say, onsite childcare -- which most of them don't. Also, it's not like Apple is offering their childless male employees bus fare to the sperm bank.
As the CEO of a bloated, under-performing General Electric, Jack Welsh popularized a management method called stack ranking. The technique is as simple as it is dystopian: During performance reviews, employees are given a number value by their manager, usually ranking them from 1 to 5. Since judging everyone as 4s and 5s would make the system as useless as modern game reviews, stack ranking works on a bell curve. For every good rank, managers are forced to hand out a couple of 2s and 1s.
This approach turns offices into ruthless battle royales, since you're suddenly sharing a cubicle with someone who might cost you your healthcare. And since studies have also shown that stack grading triggers fear and shame among the lower-ranked, it also encourages a culture of backstabbing and ratting out. Anything to get back into the good numbers.
And since capitalism hasn't exactly cooled off in our freelance zero-hour contract present, stack ranking is reaching a boiling point. Companies like Uber, Facebook and Amazon have used stack rankings to create such brutal competitiveness that employees have started referring to it as "cult-like" and "purposeful Darwinism." Companies like Microsoft and Facebook have been accused of letting their (mostly white) managers use their ranking powers to intentionally undervalue minorities.
Meanwhile, Harvard studies have shown that women are 1.4 times as likely to get a subjective or personal negative critique in their performance reviews. You mean blindly trusting in the moral compasses of large corporations doesn't pay off? Why hasn't anybody said something before now?
E. Reid Ross has a book called BIZARRE WORLD that's due to be released in September. He's practically on his knees begging that you pre-order it now from Amazon or Barnes and Noble and leave a scathing/glowing review.
Steven Assarian is a librarian. He thinks you should read Politics and the English Language by George Orwell. It's great.
For more, check out How Companies Really Do Corporate Layoffs:
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