Employee monitoring is nothing new. From CCTV in the staff room or just ‘punching’ in and out, it’s happened for decades!. I don’t think anyone even questions these traditional surveillance methods. In many cases we go about our day forgetting they exist. However, remote and hybrid working is now the new norm, and subsequently new technology is being used. These methods feel more invasive and more akin to big brother watching than many are comfortable with. It begs the question; Is it right to monitor employees at work?
Why Did Employee Monitoring Begin?
We all know that a companies greatest asset is it’s people…sometimes though, people can be a liability! Employee fraud accounts for nearly 33% of corporate bankruptcies in the United States. That means losing your job, income and everything associated with that due to a colleague not doing the right thing. Furthermore, employee fraud and theft globally costs coporations 2.9 trillion USD a year.
I don’t imagine employers realise workers could cause that much damage. More likely they are thinking about low level stealing, time-wasting or leaking company secrets? However, there must be a backdrop of mistrust and a desire to protect the business that sparks employee monitoring in the first place.
Subsequently, the business introduces monitoring tp protect itself; CCTV footage, time tracking systems, private investigators seeking those responsible for industrial espionage and to the now newer forms of surveillance such as keylogging and monitoring web usage.
In 2021 it was documented that employee monitoring was a billion-dollar industry…and it’s expected to double by 2030!
Types of Employee Monitoring:
This is any form of surveillance that takes place in the workplace, such as CCTV cameras, time sheets and supervisors keeping a close eye on employees.
Social Media monitoring:
This includes checking an employee’s social media channels (both personal and work), in order to check how much time is being spent (or not being spent) on work related activities.
Tech monitoring software:
This is mostly useful for remote or hybrid employees, or employees that are not working in one set location. Think courier drivers and GPS/location tracking software. Think computer programmes installed on an employee’s laptop that monitor computer screens, chats, internet use, file operations, e-mail, key strokes and more.
While on-site and social media monitoring are not new, the tech monitoring methods are. And like anything new, we have distrust and confusion from those on the receiving end. I think the question everyone is asking is ‘has technology gone too far’? Many of us question where the AI revolution is taking us…tech monitoring, to a lesser extent, begs the same question.
Under UK law, none of these methods are illegal, but there are certain restrictions. As an accepted rule, an employee must be notified of any surveillance taking place. It should be clearly stated in their employment agreement. The amount of monitoring taking place must be considered ‘reasonable’. And, some of the surveillance methods utilised require employee agreement before being actioned; for example remotely switch on an employee’s webcam!
Are There Benefits?
If done within reason and legally; apparently so?! I’m not just talking about stopping a rogue employee sharing your secrets with North Korea either!
- You can measure employee productivity: Simply put is a worker literally breaking down brickwalls everyday or moving like a dead slug on their responsibilities? What are they doing differently to others around them?
- Employee support: No one wants to make a mistake. Technology though can help identify and stop mistakes. It can create dialog and lead to education.
- Employee’s can get useful feedback about their work and their habits: Working from home can often feel confusing, and those who are new to it may feel as though they aren’t being productive enough. An ‘unbiased’ insight into their working habits can reassure an employee.
- Employers (and employees) learn and improve awareness of their abilities, allowing for more targeted work selection and delegation. In short we understand an employee’s strengths and work to it.
But…There Are Downsides!
- Employee’s may feel ‘untrusted’ by their employer: An understandable reaction, nobody likes feeling watched. This can lead to employee unhappiness and staff turnover.
- Poor reputation: Unhappy employees can shout very loudly to anyone prepared to listen. In short you create a PR disaster.
- Employees stop taking breaks. The fear of screenshots showing unauthorised downtime means employers never rest!
- ‘Fake working’: Employees concerned by monitoring and surveillance bring in counter measures! I am talking things like mouse clicking software that tricks tech into believing an employee is active (available on Amazon for those interested).
Employee Counter Action
As tech monitoring increases so do the counter measures from employees. Counting how many buttons an employee presses in a day, how many emails sent or calls made could lead to lower quality work in a bid to produce a higher quantity. Subsequently, you enter a war where there are no real winners!
It may be more useful to simply consider ‘results’ rather than ‘productivity’ from an employee. If I have a colleague who wins a contract with Amazon or Microsoft…but does nothing else the rest of the day….I don’t think my boss would complain too much?
The latest trend in using tech to monitor employees has received significant negative press. And – whether you are an employer or employee the debate for and against is not clearcut.
This is how I see it; if you told me employee monitoring is the equivalent to a Fitbit for work, I’d potentially buy-in. The crux of the problem is that employees think tech monitoring is looking to find fault and see them fired.
Therefore…lets talk! A case of better education, better transparency and a kick of honesty is going to make this latest trend feel slightly more acceptable!
About The Author
Lauren Stevenson is a Recruitment Resourcer with The Recruitment Lab, a Brighton recruitment agency. Lauren has recently joined the recruitment industry having completed her degree in Philosophy from the University of Sussex. If you would like to know more about anything written in this blog or would like to express your thoughts just contact Lauren through The Recruitment Lab website.