Tesco's electronic armbands and Lady Gaga's hip: it’s the shirkers vs workers debate all over again

Let it be known: sticking it to the boss man is a full-time job requiring a genuine sense of vocation. Plus: what will we do without our supermarket snobberies?
  • @MsEllenEJones

Lady Gaga has probably never worked as a forklift driver for Tesco but, if she did, she might just be the greatest forklift driver who ever graced the warehouse floor. The pop star’s admirable work ethic was confirmed this week when it was revealed that she continued to dance on tour, despite a severe joint inflammation, out of a sense of obligation to her fans. The same condition has now forced her to cancel her remaining tour dates and undergo hip surgery. “I hope you can forgive me, as it is nearly impossible for me to forgive myself,” she wrote on Facebook.

Meanwhile, back on the warehouse floor, Tesco is mysteriously struggling to elicit similar levels of self-sacrificing dedication from its staff. According to a former employee, managers have resorted to making workers wear electronic armbands that measure how hard they’re working, in a bid to improve productivity. Workers who take more than 25 minutes a day in unscheduled breaks (e.g. going to the toilet) can be penalised.

If the intention is to catch out shirkers, it’s all but doomed to fail. Actual shirkers (as opposed to disabled people, the recently redundant and people nipping to the loo for five minutes for a cry) are a misunderstood minority whose perspective has been largely lost in the welfare reform debate. As anyone who’s ever tried to “look busy” for a full seven-hour shift knows, the amount of energy and ingenuity expended in avoiding an honest day’s work is roughly equivalent to two or three honest days’ work.

Let it be known: sticking it to the boss man is a full-time job, requiring a strong sense of vocation. Shirkers are unlikely to be foxed by an electronic armband.

For most of us, it’s far less labour intensive to just do an honest day for honest pay – with the honesty of the day directly proportionate to the honesty of the pay. And what of those over-achievers like Lady Gaga, who go above and beyond the contractually required? What motivates them?

If they’re lucky, it’s a passion for their work and a large pay packet, but also it’s a sense of respectful duty between employee and employer – in Gaga’s case, her fans. Admittedly, this kind of mutual respect might seem a quaint notion in the post-Workfare world, but treating adult employees like naughty school truants is a sure-fire way to destroy any that remains.

The aisles of unwisdom

Any Tesco customers motivated to swap their brand allegiance by the news of these employment practices can join the back of the (5 items or less) queue. The horsemeat scandal has left supermarket shoppers of all stripes questioning the beliefs they once held certain. Time was, everyone knew Sainsbury’s was for no-longer-hip-or-young professionals, M&S was for those who mistakenly believed themselves too posh for Sainsbury’s, Lidl’s eccentric stock offered an outlet for frustrated creative types, and Tesco was for people who lived near a Tesco.

Now that even sainted Waitrose has withdrawn from sale “beef” meatballs that turned out to be part pork, all our handy, snobby shortcuts are rendered useless. Are Waitrose shoppers not, in fact, morally superior to everyone else?