I think this is a natural response, and it’s important to emphasize as the original poster did, that “remuneration on the basis of effort and sacrifice” can be accomplished largely by the first two of these examples, without worrying too much about the third. “Intensity” can relate to the amount of time worked, as well as to the type of work, as well as to something more difficult to quantify and assess – like whether or not you “gave it your all” or not, or whether you were on Facebook all shift, instead of doing what you yourself agreed to do, or many other things. Sometimes the best judge of our effort is ourselves. Sometimes it is our peers. Under capitalism, this task is left to managers and owners – and so this task is already done by people who don’t care about your opinion. In a democratic workplace, however, peer review by a workers’ collective is the only real check and balance on the so-called “free rider” problem. It’s actually not fair to everyone else that someone continue to share in all the benefits of the workplace and social pie, while shirking the tasks they themselves ostensibly agreed to do. So while it’s true that no one really wants to evaluate others’ efforts, we most certainly do it in informal ways, particularly if we’re the ones who will have to pick up the slack because a co-worker, openly or otherwise, decided to put in less effort for some reason.
I did write about the complexities of applying this principle in practice a bit in a critical reflection on our participatory workplace at Mondragon in Winnipeg – which zeroed in on exactly the original poster’s concerns. There is a whole section in that article on remuneration according to effort and sacrifice that may be of interest here. For example, in that piece I wrote:
Parecon theory assumes that individual workers will be motivated to work, in part because they will have a direct say over setting work norms and priorities, and in part because people will share the basic politics and values underlying the entire social and economic order. It also assumes that they will be motivated because their income will be directly tied to something they can actually control (i.e., personal effort). If they work more or harder, they’ll get more. If they work less, they’ll get less. Finally, it assumes that motivation will also come from being held accountable by one’s own co- workers, through a mechanism of peer review and effort ratings (which will be more or less formal depending on the particular workplace and workers’ councils).
In a period of transition, where isolated workplaces attempt to implement parecon-inspired norms in the midst of capitalism, each and every one of these factors can and does influence worker motivation, but there are added complexities and constraints. People may share the politics, values, and vision of the workplace, but there are always different levels of commitment, and different understandings as to what constitutes the acceptable “average” effort for the workplace or the “minimum” work expectations. Clarity and communication related to job responsibilities and expectations is obviously critical. But even beyond establishing clear norms and expectations regarding average effort, the role of peer review and effort rating is more problematic in a transition period than perhaps suggested by the model.
Alternative workplaces operating within capitalism are almost by definition marginal. Most struggle merely to survive with their principles intact, and paying workers a minimum “living wage”—while far from what we aspire to—is nevertheless a victory in the current context. (Many valuable community institutions cannot afford to pay anyone.) Evaluation of effort, and adjustments (up or down) to a worker’s already marginal income, is quite a different matter from the situation in a full participatory economy. The stakes are much higher. The consequences of being assessed negatively are potentially serious, threatening one’s ability to pay rent or buy groceries, and one’s coworkers know this. Furthermore, it is quite common for people working in alternative, progressive situations (including collective workplaces) to be friends—and to develop bonds far beyond the basic, everyday empathy one might feel for a coworker. Finally, people committed to building parecon-based institutions are more often than not committed opponents of authority and hierarchy, who instinctively (or politically) despise the notion of monitoring, evaluating, or “policing” one’s coworkers and comrades. Even if they understand, in theory, that there is no better mechanism or body able to do so, and believe that it is important to have “checks” against “free riders,” in practice, they find the task reprehensible.
All of these things make the evaluation and rating of coworkers’ effort much more problematic in practice. Even if they think the theory makes sense, most people do not want to do it in practice—at least, not in any systematic or precise manner. At best, people consider it a “rote” task to hold others accountable or to monitor their coworkers. At worst, they find that attempting precision in the realm of peer review is socially or politically offensive (some mistakenly call it “authoritarian”), but in any case, they feel it is not at all conducive to a harmonious work environment. I have serious doubts that many workers’ collectives would choose to implement an effort rating system with the degree of formality and precision suggested (albeit as one extreme) by the model. This does not mean that anything goes. At Mondragón, formal peer review and negative repercussions arise, but only as a consequence of major work deficiencies, and consistent patterns of unacceptable behavior or job shirking. In “normal” situations, if Mondragón is any indication, there will likely be differences in effort and remuneration that are unfair. Some people will work harder than others, without getting extra pay or acknowledgment. Some people will occasionally shirk duties and “get away with it,” with or without their coworkers’ knowledge. But I think most people, in practice, are willing to accept a little imperfection, perhaps even a lot, if it means the overall work environment is more welcoming and supportive and relations with one’s coworkers remain good.
The section on remuneration and how (or whether) to assess effort in any rigorous sense is relatively long, but it basically concludes by saying:
Finally, problems with motivating workers, problems with productivity and accountability, problems with workers taking initiative and setting their own standards and pace of work, have led some of Mondragón’s own collective members to question the effectiveness of rewarding work on the basis of effort. They see areas of work that are consistently neglected, they see disparities in terms of the labor that different co- workers are willing to conduct, they see critical tasks getting performed poorly or not at all, they see some people treating the workplace like they are full partners (keeping the “big picture” in mind, doing “extra” tasks, trouble-shooting as needed), while others often act like employees (shirking duties, foot-dragging, remaining silent about business direction and political vision—except insofar as it might affect their immediate work circumstances). In my opinion, these are all serious problems that any collective needs to face and resolve. But they are not a consequence of attempting to reward people for effort—as opposed to rewarding people for something seemingly more tangible, such as productivity and desired outcomes. In my opinion, these problems arise in part because Mondragón has failed to actually implement the principle—not because the principle fails . Mondragón, strictly speaking, does not reward people on the basis of effort. It tries to approximate such a principle. It pays people equal pay for equal hours shifted and, over time, the kind of work performed by each worker is roughly balanced with every other worker. But Mondragón leaves some tasks to individuals (who often perform unequal non-shifted “volunteer” work), and more important, workers’ relative efforts on and off shift are not weighed and evaluated in any strict sense. Poor perfor- mance or under-average effort is not penalized, unless it becomes a systematic pattern and problem that others become unwilling to further tolerate. (Occasionally, people mark themselves off a certain number of paid hours, on a kind of honor system, if they feel they have worked significantly less hard than expected while on shift. Or they will request extra paid hours to accomplish some task necessary for the business. But this is fairly informal and rare.) Paying people equal pay for equal effort would involve hold- ing one’s coworkers accountable for, say, getting things done at agreed-upon times. It would involve more systematic judgment and evaluation of effort on and off shift, than actually happens at Mondragón, precisely because many are reluctant to do it. And it would probably involve acknowledging, and attempting to mitigate or correct, some of the class and income disparities among collective members which operate outside the workplace.
All of these things are complicated. My gut feeling is to generally agree with the original poster that judging “intensity” within a given 8-hour shift (for example) is an extremely subjective thing. But it’s also not completely mythological either. We know, ourselves, when we’re not putting in the effort we wanted to, or the effort we already agreed to do. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when our co-workers in a traditional top-down workplace, OR in a participatory democratic one, also notice.
I am against “docking” someone’s pay cheque within capitalism based on a below-average effort rating. But let’s be clear: in a typical capitalist business, that would simply lead to getting fired. In a democratic non-hierarchical workplace, what it means is that the person who is “free riding” is actually taking advantage of their co-workers by forcing them to pick up the slack. If it’s a one-off thing, and you’re having a bad day or week, and you ask your co-workers to take that into account, they’ll probably be fairly sympathetic. But if you don’t, and you continue to drop the ball on agreed-upon tasks that either harms the workplace, or forces others to do more … and it become a pattern … then yes, people will indeed be evaluating your “intensity” more than your ability to punch a clock and collect a paycheque.
So as anathema as this all may seem, there is no better judge of one’s effort than a) an honest look in the mirror, and b) one’s actual co-workers. No one wants to be a cop in the workplace, monitoring a co-workers’ every move. But that is precisely why it can be taken advantage of by free riders. Saying we don’t want to monitor other people’s effort can also be a cop-out, because what it does is make holding one’s co-workers accountable into a rote or managerial task itself. And that, too, ought to be divided fairly, if we believe in balanced job complexes. The person who avoids holding others accountable for fear of conflict, or for fear of jeopardizing work relationships, is making different co-workers appear to be the so-called “bad cop” for holding their peers accountable. Arguably, that’s also unfair in a balanced job complex.
Anyway, these are complicated questions, and there are no easy answers. But evaluating “intensity” isn’t completely subjective. It’s an empirical question, for example, if you spent half your shift on social media pretending to work. It’s an empirical question if you opened the store an hour late, but still claimed to have been there. It’s an empirical question if you spent a third of your serving/hosting shift in a restaurant chatting with a friend who came in to the store, instead of helping your co-workers clear tables. So judging “intensity” isn’t just projection. And your co-workers have a right to assess that, because they’re directly affected. It’s not an abstract thing.