Is Employee Monitoring the Way to Go?
Employee monitoring is an often automated surveillance of workers’ activities in the workplace. A lot of companies use monitoring for tracking performance, avoiding legal liabilities, protecting trade secrets, and addressing other security or productivity concerns. According to most laws and according to employee rights in most areas of the world, employers can legally monitor nearly anything an employee does at their place of work. As long as there’s a reason for this action – the employer can prove that monitoring employees are important for the business -, there’s nothing wrong legally with it. Although, if this can’t be proven, or if employees have no knowledge of this nor have they given consent, it’s considered unethical, and in some cases, even illegal to monitor employees. The practice of monitoring is considered legal in the eyes of the court, if employers suspect malpractice, and want to catch employees in the act. It can also help deal with difficult coworkers and improve workplace politics.
But in some cases, monitoring employees is the way to go. If a person does it with the consent of others and doesn’t take it to extremes, monitoring not only eliminates most mistakes employees make during the job, but also pinpoints workplace problems and weaknesses that can be fixed or improved. This type of observation allows the company to be one step ahead of a problem, and quickly adjust. Employee monitoring is also one of the best ways to maintain and boost productivity. It can establish accountability, and also keep track of working hours. However, it’s only beneficial when used correctly, otherwise, it could backfire very quickly, and soon, it can become counterproductive for the entire company.
But what does monitoring look like in practice? Most companies use monitoring to oversee the content of employee emails, their social media accounts, who they met with, and how they utilize their time and space in the office. Of course, this differs from company to company, some people monitor more, some people monitor less, and some companies monitor something else entirely. But everything from free time to browser history can, and most likely will be monitored at some point or another in a high-end organization. Employee monitoring was “in fashion” way before the Coronavirus crisis, but ever since then, the fear of productivity loss has been at an all-time high. This means that companies are increasing their monitoring efforts. Also, with new technologies hitting the market daily, it’s no wonder that these efforts are increasing by the hour. Most of today’s monitoring practices are completely automated, and even the conclusions of the gathered data are processed by computers, making monitoring not only necessary but incredibly easy. Some of these automations include live video feeds, keyboard tracking, keystroke recording, location tracking, and more. But is this ethical?
For example, most restaurants and bars are equipped with cameras all around to oversee what’s happening in the restaurant, and also to monitor employees. If one day, someone goes through these tapes and sees a bartender putting a bottle of Vodka into their bag, this is reason enough for firing that employee. In this case scenario, employee monitoring is not considered an invasion of privacy, nor is it considered unethical.
Another example of this is an international company, which is monitoring an employee’s every movement. From keyboard movement to the amount of time someone spends in the bathroom. These actions are more likely to be considered invasive and unethical than the aforementioned case, but both are standard practices of employee monitoring. At the end of the day, anything is considered ethical that both people gave their consent to. Simply put, if these monitoring efforts were clearly stated in the contract, and the employee signed that contract knowing about these, then they are considered to be ethical. Therefore, if you sign a contract that clearly states in black and white, that your keyboard and monitor will be watched, you can not say anything about it, as you agreed to this. So overall, when done right, and transparently, employee monitoring can be an ethical practice. But that doesn’t mean that it should be used in all companies, and some places and people frown upon the use of such equipment.
The constant surveillance of employees erodes the trust between them and their employers. As a result of this monitoring, a lot of people can become stressed, paranoid, afraid of speaking up, and it can cause burnout. These all decrease productivity and can result in your company’s being viewed as a toxic workplace. Finding the balance between the two sides of monitoring is a slippery slope. Done right, and you’ll have productive, motivated, trusting employees. One misstep, and you’ll have the opposite. It can also be a huge downfall in workplace politics.
The best thing to do to find the right balance is to be transparent about this process. Tell your employees that this is happening. Tell them exactly how they’re being monitored, and most importantly, tell them why. These reasons differ with each company. Most people monitor employees to pinpoint weaknesses and problems. It can also help with training because the right tools can find weak spots in newly hired employees, therefore they can help them grow faster. Another reason is keeping workplace politics at bay. Most people, when noticing discrimination, or unethical behavior of any kind, are afraid to speak up. But with the right tools, you can either go ahead of the problem or once there’s a hint of misbehavior from anyone, you can use these practices as a way to confirm it happening.
Overall, it depends on the company and the person whether or not they want to monitor employees. It’s standard practice for large companies with thousands of employees, but for startups or small organizations, it’s not a must. Ultimately, if you choose to monitor your employees, remember to be transparent, and approach it with an outreached hand.
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