GPS Employee-Tracking Pops Up Again

from the where's-waldo? dept

Every so often, stories about companies using GPS technology to keep tabs on their workers come up, generally coinciding with some company’s product launch. For the most part, GPS tracking doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For one thing, it doesn’t send the best message to employees if their boss feels the need to constantly know where they are. For another, the systems aren’t infallible, and slacking employees will typically find a way around them. Most of all, though, they’re typically solutions in search of a problem. Take the latest story about employee tracking from Toronto’s Globe and Mail. The example it leads with is a vending machine company using the technology to track its drivers, and make sure they “were receiving fair compensation”. Apparently the GPS gear it installed in its trucks “helped the company confirm its pay calculations were fair and balanced”, but here’s the kicker: the company’s director of operations doesn’t know exactly when it will recoup the $400 per vehicle costs, but “anticipates” they will do so. There are certainly some instances in which GPS tracking makes sense, but there are plenty more where it doesn’t. Given the costs and the questionable return on investment, not to mention the potential damage to employee morale and performance, these systems are awfully hard to justify.

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Comments on “GPS Employee-Tracking Pops Up Again”

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Anonymous Coward says:

No, they are incredibly easy to justify when you have a lot of vehicles servicing a lot of locations. A 1% change in route efficiency generally results in positive ROI and case study after case study shows much higher percentages.

Finding “slacking” employees is a minor part of the system… but it typically does happen. Even when told the trucks are being tracked, you typically find a few routes that go Customer A, Customer B, 20 miles out of the way & stay for an hour, Customer C… and the geolocation of that side trip happens to correlate with the drivers boy/girl friend…

Another part of the ROI is denying lawsuits. Sad but true that any company with a large fleet is often accused of “One of your trucks caused this accident…” type stuff. Being able to prove that all of you trucks were miles away from that spot at that time has measurable value.

Anyway, LOTS of good ROI in route truck tracking. Making like the entire technology is focused on slacking employees is just buzzword grandstanding.

Saragon says:

Tracking Vehicles

Actually, a construction company I’m familiar with (through a friend who works in its corporate office) got a pretty good return off of the GPS systems they installed in their supervisor’s trucks. They fired several supervisors who spent many “work” hours at local strip clubs and bars, and they estimated that the increase in productivity from their new and more involved supervisors paid for the units within a couple of months.

Admittedly, this is on a much smaller scale than the Globe & Mail. But it does work. Interestingly, though, a few of the field crew figured out how to turn the GPS system off without setting off a “no signal” alert — a flaw that the manufacturer had never seen evidence of, and quickly fixed (probably to their sales’ benefit.)

misanthropic humanist says:

technology is neutral

Last time we considered this one of the *benefits* was health and safety of employees.

“…using the technology to track its drivers, and make sure they “were receiving fair compensation”.

Another good benefit, although most drivers are on an hourly wage or salary, so it won’t help them. I hope “Carrier Employee” can chime in here as a driver and share some wisdom. Regardless, as I just said under that heading, there are various labour laws that apply to “reasonable breaks” and in some juristictions to “freedom from unreasonable surveillance in the workplace”. Although one could argue (with a vehicle) that the company are not tracking the employee, they are tracking company property.

I know someone who works as a driver and he reckons the GPS system is actually a big boon. Instead of driving back to the depot only to find he has to return to a place close to where he came from the computer system is able to optimise and prioritise drivers. The upshot is that he often has a shorter working day!

Same thing holds. If it is enabling and increases both profit and employee quality of life it’s a good thing. If it used as a form of control and abuse it’s a bad thing. The technology itself is neutral and passive. You can’t say whether a Blackberry or a GPS system is “good or bad”, you have to look at the psychology and situation of both the employee and employer to determine whether the realtionship that happens through the technology is improved or made worse.

A bad boss or overly pushy company policy based on authoritarian philosophy and demonstrable mistruct of employees will always lead to less productivity, resentment, stress and lost profit through having to rehire. Which is why my sincerest advice as someone who has been in both shoes is to treat your employees with the utmost respect, don’t take the piss, give them more than their statutory rights, and you will reap big rewards.

Dismayed says:

I was fired from an Alarm company (small local company) due to GPS – I was an Alarm Response guy who drove out to alarm activations to check to make sure everything was ok!

Well, they decided they wanted to start selling a line of GPS gear. So they used our vehicles as test pilots.

Two weeks later I was fired because they saw that I was going 75 mph in a 65 mph zone. The shop mechanic vouched for me, telling my boss that the speedometer was infact off on the vehicle by 7 miles and that it was probably reading around 68 mph even though the GPS system reported 75.

I still got fired because I was driving 3 miles over the speed limit here in California – if I got pulled over and ticketed for that, a Judge will through the case out of court.

To this day, that company hasn’t started selling those GPS units.

They also had mics in all the rooms of the building and recorded all office conversations.

Getting fired from there was the best thing that ever happend to me too. So many opportunities after that place.

One month after I left, the owner shot and killed a guy with a gun he had no permit for. He got off scott free this last year in court too.

Tyshaun says:

Not necessarily bad, just sometimes...

In my college years I worked at a local ambulance company who implemented a GPS like tracking system for a variety of reaons:

1) It made dispatching units more effiicient as the dispatcher could tell which unit was actually the closest, not which ones district was.

2) It encouraged employees to respond to calls in a timely manner and automated the time recording, which improved patient outcomes and produced better and more accurate documentation of patient care.

3) and this is probably most important, it helped to weed out bad employees. One of your opinions stated was that employee morale suffers by the GPS tracking, this is partially true, but what I saw that those who were most negatively impacted were those who had a tendancy to goof off anyway. People that ran personal errands in the ambulance, stationed the ambulance not at their assigned location, but in the park so they could nap and watch the girls softball team, stuff like that. The employees that did what they were supposed to do sometimes even forgot the GPS system was there because it had no affect on their overall job performance.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that GPS does have some major benefits if used properly. The arguement of low morale can be countered by asking if those who would be affected by the system are people you want working for you. The morale arguement works when talking about white collar workers because many of them tend to work with much looser direct supervision, and GPS would bother them, but a lot of blue collar workers are used to being constantly monitored (I’ve heard of places where times for bathroom breaks are recorded) so I dont think GPS tracking would have as much of an impact.

guy who did that thing one says:

Re: Not necessarily bad, just sometimes...

“but a lot of blue collar workers are used to being constantly monitored (I’ve heard of places where times for bathroom breaks are recorded) so I dont think GPS tracking would have as much of an impact.”

When I worked for tech support for 2Wire They monitored everything from your conversation to the customer, exactly (to the second) how long your 15min breaks and lunch breaks were, exactly (again to the second) how long you were in the bathroom, exactly how long you talked to the customer- everything. They were able to watch your screen as you were using it, so they could tell exactly what you did on your break. The stress eventually tore me down and I was sick for 3 weeks with a minor cold. Just couldn’t kick it. I woke up one day and told them where they could put the headset. 2 days later I was completely better and my roommates could stand me again. The only way they could have watched us any further is plant a gps unit in our head to tell where we were eating at lunch.

To sum up my story- you can push your employees for more productivity, but thats only pushing them away.

Petréa Mitchell says:

It could help the employees

I see one way this could help drivers– if they get encouraged to push the limits of regulations on how long they should be driving, the GPS log can tell how long their vehicle was really being used.

I don’t know if this sort of thing is as common for companies of the sort profiled as it is for long-haul trucking, but still.

Celes says:

Re: It could help the employees

Now that you mention it, that would have been really helpful at my first job. I worked for a taxi service on the water, and often our captains had to run their vessels past the 12-hour limit imposed by the Coast Guard. A system like this would have at least given them backup when they tried to complain.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

GPS Tracking Does Offer Positive ROI

I’ve seen many case studies where there was positive ROI because of these devices, and I think the earlier comments illustrate a few of the ways this happens.

In fact, it looks like the one commenter above who didn’t identify his former employer probably worked for First Alarm in Northern Ca. I’ve seen a case study on that company that showed that they were able to get lower insurance rates from their provider by guaranteeing that their drivers were abiding by speed limits. That savings alone would recoup the capital costs within a year. Sounds like he got the shaft, though, but that was a bad management decision, not bad technology.

The use of GPS-assisted dispatching offers efficiency gains of large proportions. GPS data can be used not only to prove that a truck was NOT at the site of an accident, but also to prove that a truck WAS at an important place, like a security firm could prove to clients that it DID check their facility.

Monitoring Blue Collar workers… Desk jockeys like us never like the concept of being watched. We’re not used to it. We have “Managers” and “Mentors”, but we’re not paid by the hour, either. We can’t clock out at 5PM if the work isn’t done. Blue collar workers have almost always worked under “Supervisors”. The job title itself implies what it is. So now, workers in the field are actually supervised by their Supervisor. Sounds fair, and hardly sneaky.

So let me sum up:
– employee safety
– asset (vehicle) tracking
– dispatch efficiency, least-cost routing
– faster dispatch response times (satisfied customers)
– slacker supervision
– auto insurance discounts
– legal evidence
– automatic timecarding
– automatic invoicing
– corporate image (your truck not parked at the Bada Bing)
– fuel savings from less speeding
– savings from fewer, less severe accidents
– lower legal liability for accidents because of speed
– sure, some lower efficiency because of less speeding!
– often workers with GPS don’t need to start and end their day at a company yard, but can start from home
– yield management (for transport trucks)
– and there IS more…

Yeah, this stuff has more than a whiff of big brother to it, but damn, it can have very positive ROI. Pair it with a mobile data system and a Push-to-talk com system and it can be even more powerful.

David Katz (user link) says:

Employee tracking

As the owner of the company mentioned in the Globe and Mail article, I can draw on the experiences of hundreds of my clients.

It’s the company’s given right to be as efficient and concerned as needed. The best companies are the ones concerned with the efficiency of their employees. It’s those companies that can afford to pay the most, reward the most, put more time into training, keep their staff safe, and on and on.

I disagree with any company who implements covertly, (we won’t work with any company who does) it perpetuates the philosophy of mistrust that would already be present, and there is nothing that can save that sinking ship.

It’s my experience that those companies that care the most about the success of their staff, are the ones most concerned about keeping them honest.

I welcome any response and communication.



Peter Sugden (user link) says:

Employee tracking

Our company FleetScan Solutions has been offering GPS-based vehicle and asset-tracking solutions in Western Canada since 2003.

For many years, it has been accepted as an employer’s right to track the use of computers and phones in the cube farms around the world. The standard employer-employee relationship implies that the employer can expect a specific number of hours per working day to be dedicated to the interests of advancing the company’s projects.

The cost of maintaining company vehicle fleets often ranks the second largest expense item after payroll, and the possible company liabilities associated with misuse of a company vehicle are huge. It only makes logical sense that the employer would want to safeguard this large segment of its operations, as well as maximize the use of these expensive assets.

There should be nothing covert about the implementation of a fleet tracking system using GPS. Though this technology is not yet everywhere, employees at the companies we have installed at have accepted it very quickly, and employers are now realizing that this will soon be the new fleet operations standard.

It’s not about tracking the employee – it’s about ensuring maximum use of a company’s vehicle assets.

mike hunt says:

GPS workers

GPS the workforce = how to completely strip a human of dignity and self worth. It is distrustful and a gross violation of privacy. Time to vote in a government that will abolish the gross misuse of this wonderful technology. Workers can do it. There are more of us than you. 🙂 Any cost savings will be inconsequential to the losses. I lose my dignity I will do anything I can to hurt your business including….boycott. Roflmao.

Anonymous Coward says:

I watched first hand the employee moral slide and work performance along with it. Everyone hates it, its illegal in many countries, and it doesn’t always work. The psychology of it is basically your a thief thats why we are GPS’ing you. Its like working with a gun to your head. I don’t work well with a gun to my head. I had people actually tell me that if their employer did it to them they would kill them. Privacy is not a big joke to some people apparently. Boycott companies that engage in this disgusting pathetic behavior. Thank God you can buy $20 GPS jammers on the internet. Fuck you Big Brother.

Anonymous Coward says:

Does anyone know if a company is allowed to install GPS equipment on leased fleet vehicles (they don’t own them – they are not their property) without the leasors consent? Wouldn’t it void the warranty? Improperly wired units can malfunction and cause electrical fires causing the vehicle to burn to the ground and potential liability would be enormous. Would this void the insurance as well?

Anonymous Coward says:

Does anyone know if a company is allowed to install GPS equipment on leased fleet vehicles (they don’t own them – they are not their property) without the leasors consent? Wouldn’t it void the warranty? Improperly wired units can malfunction and cause electrical fires causing the vehicle to burn to the ground and potential liability would be enormous. Would this void the insurance as well?

james says:

Well, i can see the gps providers are flooding this with positives as with all the other web sights. If the system was that great,they wouldn’t have to be entering so much false positive fluff about the gps systems. Our company has seen so much anger over the system that production has plunged for over three years running. Quality of service has plunged and the company is now struggling to survive. We upgraded to a new, more accurate gps device and the company is now getting slammed with paying overtime because the employees have proof they were on the road when they said they were. I could go on forever but if you own a company, save yourself some cash and stay away from the gps tracking.

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