Would you get an RFID chip implanted in your arm so you could access the company data center? Would you take a test that asks deeply personal questions with no perception of anonymity? Would you take a lie detector test? How about a drug test? If any of these scenarios sound frightening to you, you should start thinking about your response now, because everyone will be facing these decisions sooner than we might like. Is any job worth sacrificing your privacy?
Imagine if when you were born you were given a magical compass to lead you through your life. It would always show you the way. It would show you the right answers on tests, lead you to the right college and to the right course of study at that college. It would lead to your first job, your first (and maybe last) love and always show the path ahead. This isn’t some idle fantasy. We each have a compass to show us the way, if only we would take it out of our pocket and use it. This compass, of course, is our desire. Instead of a needle, it is a feeling, a pull, a tension — in some cases, an overwhelming flood of feeling that says “Yes, this is the way — this is the one — this is where you need to go!”
In an odd moment of synchronicity I came across mentions of two of these issues this week and it reminded me of my own brushes with controversial techniques to try and divine who is a good employee. After a humiliating experience with a lie detector test when I applied for my first job, I will never take another lie detector test again. I have been exposed to company surveys where the proctor made obvious attempts to skew the results. I have taken the Meyers-Briggs Personality Profile Test. Still, more and more companies are trying to find the “magic bullet” that will solve all their employee problems and you will be faced with ever more intrusive methods.
Just say no!
So, how do you protect yourself against invasive tactics such as these? First, learn to say “No,” quickly and assuredly. You may decide later that the results will be protected or anonymized properly and change your mind, but your first response at any sign of concern should always be “No.” If you are feeling uncomfortable, this is a sign to beware. It is also a sign that others around are probably also uncomfortable. In some cases, you might not have enough information about the test or survey. In others, the questions being asked might seem too personal or outside the bounds of what any company should need to know.
There are good reasons for saying “No.” Once you have completed a test or survey, it is too late to withdraw that information. Regardless of whether you contest the results or the entire testing program later, you have offered up information that can never be regained. By refusing to take the test, you are protecting yourself in many different ways.
How are they being used?
In the case of one company, managers were “asked” to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test. This test is usually given to people to detect mental illnesses and direct their treatment. It asks extremely personal questions about all aspects of a person’s life, including sex, religion, bodily functions and more. Despite the fact that some states have outlawed its use outside of the medical environment, some companies are still giving it to their employees. In most cases, companies can’t ask you about religion, martial status and race in job interviews, why should questions that are even more private be allowed after you are employed. (See Career-Op: Can you ask me that?, July 23, 1999, (http://welchwrite.com/dewelch/ce/ce990723.html) for more on that issue.)
I cannot imagine a worse situation to place yourself than providing deeply personal information to your employer. The mind boggles at the ways you could be abused and manipulated by unscrupulous management. Of course, you must be ready to accept the consequences of refusing. Companies may fire you or threaten you with dismissal. They may try to convince you of the test’s worth using specious arguments or even outright lies. Regardless of the consequences, though, you must stand your ground wherever and whenever possible. Otherwise, you must understand that this particular company will now have a certain amount of control over you that they might not have had before.
As for requiring RFID implants or other surgical alterations for employees, this is almost too repugnant to even consider. Violating human rights is bad enough, but violating the human body, for non-medical reasons, is inconceivable. I believe that this initial news story was more of a publicity stunt than anything else, but this doesn’t mean that some company won’t make a genuine attempt to enforce it in the near future.
There are lines to be drawn today in employee/employer relationships. Lines that we never thought would be crossed except in science fiction stories. Like science fiction, though, what were once just stories are becoming reality every day. While we have seen and enjoyed the benefits of the “good ideas” of science fiction such as space flight and computers, we must guard against those repugnant ideas that demean everyone involved. Just because something can be done, does not mean that it should be done. If you and other employees don’t draw a line in the sand, companies will increasingly overstep their bounds with impunity. Companies may be seeking out ways to find the “perfect” employee, but what they are really doing is finding new and innovative ways to violate basic human rights in the search for higher profitability.
Question of the week: Where do you draw the line on invasive employer behavior?