If you’ve increased your efforts to monitor employee productivity, you’re far from alone. According to the Harvard Business Review, 50 percent of corporations queried by Gartner in 2018 admitted to monitoring the content of employee emails and social media accounts, “along with who they met and how they utilized their workspaces.” A survey of C-suite executives, conducted by Accenture last year, revealed that 62 percent of organizations harness new tools to collect data on their employees.
The Case For Employee Monitoring
Employee monitoring—with technology at its center—offers some advantages. For starters, it can cut down on fraud and waste—for example, by allowing businesses to identify employees who are working “side gigs” on company time, perusing social media, or doing something else instead of performing their assigned tasks. Similarly, monitoring employees using technology helps to minimize workplace hostility—for instance, if employees know they’re being watched, they will be unlikely to engage in activities others may consider hostile—like viewing demeaning videos at their desks instead of in the privacy of their own home.
The potential to protect records from litigation, as well as to safeguard the quality of work performed by staff, also rank high on the list of reasons to consider tracking employees’ activities. Emails are considered submissible evidence in court—and monitoring them increases the chance that doors to security breaches, accidental misuse, and other potentially cash-eating legal issues remain firmly closed. Moreover, when employees are monitored, mistakes or errors in their work can be readily identified and addressed in a timely manner, rather than when it may be too late.
Disadvantages of Employee Monitoring
However, there’s a downside here, too. Notably, monitoring may damage the “layer” of trust between companies and their employees. Statistics from Accenture drive home this point, with 52 percent of employees polled noting that mishandling of data gleaned during monitoring erodes trust and just 32 percent of C-suite executives queried remaining “confident” that such data would always be leveraged responsibly.
Additionally, surveillance can lead to employee stress and fear, in turn leading to burnout and decreases—rather than increases—in worker productivity. Employers may also be perceived as prioritizing profits over people—a stance which, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Millennial Survey, can make it difficult to retain millennial employers. Fifty-five percent of millennials who participated in the survey said they plan to leave employers whose actions—including surveillance—demonstrate that they do consider their profits more important than their staff.
“Given the risk of alienating employees, coupled with the possibility of error and misapplication of these tools, it is quite likely that, for many, the juice” of employee monitoring “just isn’t worth the squeeze,” according to the Harvard Business Review.
Employee Surveillance Done Right
For businesses that opt to embark the employee surveillance route, the Harvard Business Review provides strategies for doing so in a manner that “respects employees” and their privacy. These strategies include:
- Focusing on the right metrics. For example, monitoring the quantity of emails written or read is a poor indicator of productivity, and making judgements based only on numeric scores generated by productivity-tracking software can lead to ill-informed decisions. Determining which metrics to use should be a process in which all relevant stakeholders—from hiring managers and supervisors to a sample of those being monitored—participate.
- Adopting a transparent stance. This means telling employees what is being monitored and why, sharing results of monitoring with staff, providing workers with opportunities to provide feedback, and offering a system through which employees can appeal decisions about their career that were influenced by the data collected. Results of a survey by Gartner reveal that only 30 percent of employees are comfortable with employers monitoring their email without notice or explanation. However, 50 percent noted that they would be comfortable with such monitoring if they knew that it was happening—and why.
- Practicing acceptance. In general, and especially at a time when many employees are working remotely as well as juggling multiple demands (e.g., supervising children enrolled in remote school), employers should accept that productivity numbers revealed using surveillance may not always be as desired. Employers would do well to discuss disappointing numbers with affected employees and look for solutions instead of taking punitive action.
- Monitoring surveillance systems to ensure that people of color and members of other vulnerable groups aren’t at a disadvantage (i.e., monitored when others are not). Failure to do so could lead to discriminatory claims—or worse.
- Pulling back on monitoring where possible. This lets employees know they are trusted and decreases “the tendency to acquire more control than necessary when circumstances are not as severe as they once were,” according to the Harvard Business Review.