economistThe October 25, 2014 issue of the Economist, a U.K. business news periodical, contains a tongue-in- cheek guide to “skiving,” which apparently is the British word for shirking on the job. The piece highlights the challenge and opportunity created by new technology for employees who want to pretend to work, rather than work. It notes:

[I]nformation technology is both the slacker’s best friend and deadliest enemy. The PC is custom-made for the indolent: You can give every impression of being hard at work when in fact You are doing your shipping, booking a holiday or otherwise frolicking in the cyber-waves. And thanks to mobile technology you can now continue to frolic while putting face time in meetings. . . . But there is a dark side to IT: one estimate suggests that 27 [million] employees around the world have their internet use monitored. Dealing with this threat requires vigilance: do everything you can to hide your browsing history. It may also require something that does not come naturally to skivers: political activism. Make a huge fuss about how even the smallest concessions on the principles of absolute data privacy will create a slippery slope to a totalitarian society. Skiving is like liberty: it can flourish only if Big Brother is kept at bay.

–  A Guide to skiving, The Economist, Oct. 25, 2014.

From the nation that gave us George Orwell, the point is well made. For many jobs, shirking is becoming more difficult. Good news for employers. Increasing productivity is probably the number two motivation for employee monitoring after protection of assets, data, and trade secrets. New privacy legislation at the state level in the U.S., however, means that employers need to be careful about how and what they monitor, and provide proper notice when required. Increasingly sophisticated employee monitoring may also mean dark days ahead for slackers, which perhaps takes out just a little of the human element of the workplace, even if it increases worker productivity overall.