UnitedHealth Group, Allina Health criticized for digital employee monitoring practices

Digital employee productivity monitoring is gaining in popularity across every industry, including at UnitedHealth Group and Allina Health. But the practice is coming under fire because of how monitoring can be directly tied to compensation and job security, The New York Times reported Aug. 14.

A UnitedHealth employee told the Times that social workers and therapists had their computer keystrokes monitored to ensure they were staying active. If keyboard activity stopped, they were marked "idle," and then "derelict," even when they were having in-person conversations with patients or visiting drug treatment facilities.

The employee said compensation was affected by keyboard activity and social workers were ranked on a 1 to 5 scale based on how active they were.

"This literally killed morale," the employee told the Times. "I found myself really struggling to explain to all my team members, master's-level clinicians, why we were counting their keystrokes."

Other UnitedHealth employees working in the insurance division reported similar tactics of the company tying compensation to keyboard activity. An Optum spokesperson told the Times the company does monitor employees but did not say how many.

"We know there is no single measure to fully assess team productivity or individual performance," they said.

In August 2020, strict productivity monitoring policies arrived at Allina Health on top of existing policies. 

Hospice chaplain employees with the Minneapolis-based health system said they were required to write down their estimated "productivity points" in a spreadsheet every morning, which was then compared to a computer-generated productivity score at the end of the work day.

Allina employees said this policy led to prioritization of productivity points over patients because job security depended on points. Chaplains said they rearranged patient visits, how long they visited and which facilities they visited based on earning points. 

"Do I see the patients who earn the points or do I see the patients who really need to be seen?" an employee told the Times. "This is going to sound terrible, but every now and again I would do what I thought of as 'spiritual care drive-bys'" to get points. If a patient was asleep, "I could just talk to the nurse and say, 'Are there any concerns?' It counted as a visit because I laid eyes."

Allina's director of hospice told the Times the company was "extremely proud of the high-quality and compassionate hospice care" its teams provide. Overall, Allina viewed the productivity points as a success because patient satisfaction and employee engagement scores improved.

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