Today, as it happened, I was given an unusual task at work that I had never been given before, and that was the task of watching the phone queues and making sure that all of the employees were in the proper phone status so as to be able to receive the high level of calls we had in the first few hours of the day, when I was watching the queues because the person normally watching them was in a meeting about new company benefits to those of us who are full-time permanent employees. This task, as might be expected, required a fair amount of attention and also required some technical changes to be made to the computer to allow me to engage in easier surveillance of the phone statuses of people, who were then notified, along with their supervisors, when their phone status was in an unacceptable state, of if they had been on break for too long. These changes, moreover, once made to my computer made it easier for me to engage in this task during the rest of the day as I caught up with my usual reporting, and I was able to send a few messages at the end of the day to remind some of the agents in a remote office of the proper closing procedure.
The task I was asked to do, and accomplished, was one of great importance, especially given that the department I was helping is fairly minimally staffed and phones are expected to get very busy very shortly. Having more eyes watching what is going on is not a bad thing, as long as those eyes are mine. To be sure, people do not like to be watched, but it is easy to understand why people are watched, and there are some ways in which matters are remarkably easy to watch, should it be necessary to do so. Most of the time, so long as we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, it is not difficult to avoid too much scrutiny. That said, once we draw the limited attention of people, and show our conduct as being worthy of scrutiny, it is difficult to avoid that scrutiny continuing, since once you do something worth watching, it is hard to keep doing something worth watching in the future.
This was, as might be expected, a common problem with the people I was looking at today. Most of them could not help themselves but act in ways that would increase my scrutiny once I started watching their behavior. Whether it was people who would take extra time in every break, despite knowing that they were being watched, or whether it was people who would leave their phone in the wrong status at the end of the day, or whether it was people who would go into bogus phone statuses when I was looking at them engaged in other tasks that were not meetings, to give but a few examples, once people came under my attention, it was hard for them to leave it. I wonder why this is. Why is it that someone who is already under a great deal of scrutiny for not working hard engage in activities that demonstrate this further once they have been made aware that they are under observation? Is it that the pressure of being under scrutiny makes one behave in ways that are sure to cause additional trouble simply because one is already under an intolerable level of stress? This is something to consider, for I am not only a watcher, but also watched, depending on what part of life is being discussed.
In our day and time, surveillance is very common, largely because it is very easy. When one is working with data all day, and looking at real time monitoring in order to shift behavior to respond to conditions as they happen in order to capitalize on sudden opportunities, it is not that hard to watch the way that others behave. At times they seem unaware that they are being watched, at other times they are hostile to it, but to watch is an easy and even trivial task. This is true whether we are a backup member of a workforce management team, or whether one is part of government agencies responsible for watching over people to spot any suspicious behavior that would indicate that someone is worthy of greater scrutiny. Our time and attention and resources are limited, but the means of finding worthwhile anomalies are not difficult, and the results of that surveillance are often entertaining and interesting, at least to the people watching. But who watches the watchers, to make sure that they live by the same standards they enforce, and to make sure that the watching is for worthwhile purposes? Does it make others more or less comfortable to know that people like myself are watching?