Today’s News & Commentary—April 16, 2019
Microsoft announced Monday that it would overhaul its procedures for handling workers’ complaints of harassment and discrimination, less than two weeks after a report revealed widespread sexist treatment of female employees at the firm. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told workers in an internal memo that the company plans to speed up investigations of misconduct, hire more staff to guide employees through such investigations, and publish annual internal reports describing employee complaints and disciplinary steps taken by the company. Microsoft will require its more than 16,000 managers to undergo training and also begin considering diversity and inclusion while setting compensation for managers. The changes came shortly after Quartz reported on a 90-page email thread in which female Microsoft employees voiced frustration over unchecked sexist behavior at the company and described instances in which they were called derogatory names and forced to carry out administrative tasks even though they worked in technical positions. One senior-level employee reported that she had twice been asked to sit on a coworker’s lap in the presence of HR and other executives. The email chain surfaced as Microsoft battles a lawsuit before the Ninth Circuit in which current and former engineers claim that the company engages in systemic discrimination against women in technical roles. As of June 2018, women held 19.7% of leadership roles at Microsoft.
The Los Angeles Times reports that employees in the $43-billion game industry are expressing greater interest in unionizing. In 2009, about a third of game workers said they would support a union at their company when responding to an annual survey conducted by the International Game Developers Association. In the 2019 survey, about 47% answered “yes” and 26% answered “maybe” when asked whether game workers should unionize, while only 16% responded “no” to that question. A group called Game Workers Unite, which formed last year to promote unionization in the industry, has expanded to 27 chapters around the world. Supporters say unionizing would help designers who sometimes work 100-hour weeks for months, without overtime or bonus pay, to deliver games on time, while also addressing mass layoffs, which are common throughout the sector.
Amazon workers at four logistic centers in Germany went on strike on Monday, demanding better working conditions and higher pay. Trade union Verdi, which has organized a series of strikes at Amazon in Germany since 2013, says the work stoppage will last until Thursday in some of the centers, while employees at other centers may join the strike over the Easter holiday. Germany is Amazon’s second-biggest market after the United States.
Corporations are increasingly taking an interest in surveilling workers to ensure they are productive, CNBC reports. Amazon has patented technology that would allow it to track the location of warehouse workers and their interactions with inventory bins. Meanwhile, Walmart has patented a system to listen in on workers to see whether they are greeting customers and to “ensure that employees are performing their jobs efficiently and correctly by listening for sounds such as rustling of bags or beeps of scanners[,]” which can help Walmart determine the number of items placed in bags and the number of bags used. Companies are also beginning to analyze emails and calendar information to examine worker productivity. Although some employers have these monitoring tools at their disposal, they are wary of using the new technology for fear of employee backlash and because of the potential that data will be mishandled.
Researchers have uncovered a link between faking smiles at work and increased instances of drinking off-the-job, according to a recent study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The more that employees in retail, restaurants, and other public-facing positions have to suppress negative emotions at work, the less they can control their alcohol intake after work, according to Alicia Grandey, a psychology professor at Penn State. Grande suggested that employers reconsider forcing employees to “serve up ‘service with a smile’ because that might be something of a health hazard for workers.”