Hey, Let’s Be Slaves to “Shadow Work”
I hadn’t heard of “shadow work” until today, when I read this article, though I’ve done plenty of it without knowing it had a name, and so have you.
So, what is “shadow work?”
Examples abound, helping drive unemployment rates. Airports now have self-service check-in kiosks that allow travelers to perform the jobs of ticket agents. Travel agents once unearthed, perused and compared fares, deals and hotel rates. Shadow-working travelers now do all of this themselves on their computer screens. Medical patients are now better informed than ever — as a result of hours of online shadow work. In 1998, the Internal Revenue Service estimated that taxpayers spent six billion hours per year on “tax compliance activities.” That’s serious shadow work, the equivalent of three million full-time jobs.
Once upon a time, retail stores had employees who were not cashiers but roamed the floor, assisting customers. Go into a Wal-Mart or Target or Staples and find someone to help you locate and choose a product. Good luck. You’re on your own, left to wander the aisles in search of an unoccupied staff person. (Meanwhile, you might stumble on and purchase some item you hadn’t planned on buying.) Here, it’s not technology, but a business tactic that cuts payroll expenses by trimming the service provided to customers — and prolongs the time those customers spend rambling around inside the store. Regardless, the result is still more shadow work, as customers take on the job that retail salespeople once did.
Shadow work isn’t always unpaid; sometimes it shows up at one’s salaried job in the form of new tasks covertly added to one’s responsibilities. Not long ago, human resources departments kept track of employees’ vacation, personal and sick days. In many organizations, employees now enter their own data into absence management software.
The American corporatocracy has surreptitiously conned us into doing things for it that it used to do for us. And, far as I can tell (hello!), they aren’t reducing what they charge us to compensate for that.
So they win again and we go along with the program like dumb drones.
Welcome to a new week of doing that (me included).