Automation & Surveillance


Technology is transforming service sector workplaces, yet little systematic data exists to understand the prevalence and consequences of new workplace technologies. Beginning in 2019, The Shift Project has surveyed workers about their experiences of automation and technology on-the-job with support from [insert R01 acknowledgement].

Measuring Automation in the Workplace 

Targeted questions in Shift Project surveys allow us to collect detailed information on the types of automation and technology individuals are interacting with at work. Our surveys ask respondents about the extent to which customers and workers rely on technologies such as websites, tablets, computers, and self-checkout registers to facilitate ordering. We also ask about how employers are using robotic technology to complete tasks such as stocking shelves, taking product inventory, providing customer service, counting money, and even cooking and/or preparing food. We then collect information on workers’ feelings towards these technologies. Our surveys ask respondents if workplace technologies make their jobs more stressful, and if they anticipate having their jobs replaced by such devices in the near or distant future. 

Measuring Surveillance in the Workplace 

Workplace surveillance has always been a component of organizational management, however, recent advances in surveillance technology may have intensified this practice. Shift surveys ask respondents about traditional forms of monitoring including video cameras and managerial observation in addition to new, technology-based, forms such as handheld devices, wristbands, and cash registers which track keystrokes. We also ask about the types of activities that employers are choosing to monitor including employees’ conversations, location, and work quality. 

In the service sector, workers are frequently evaluated on the speed of their work because serving the maximum amount of customers is important for maintaining slim profit margins. To gauge the frequency of speed tracking, Shift surveys ask workers how often they receive information on the speed of their work through automated technology and managers. Sometimes, managers try to provide additional motivation for fast work by putting employees in competition with one another via public facing leaderboards, which display individuals’ performance metrics to everyone working during a given shift. We ask about the prevalence of leaderboards and whether workers feel that these devices make their jobs more fun or more stressful. 

This new survey data will allow the Shift Project to address a set of Key Questions related to workplace technology:

  1. How prevalent is technology in working lives of service and retail sector workers? What types of technology do they use?
  2. What are the consequences for workers of different ages who are subject to technology use at work?
  3. What effects do workplace technologies have on individuals’ workplace relationships?