The Downsides of Employee Monitoring

26th January 2022

Employee monitoring has become more prevalent as the need for a physical office has diminished, fuelled by the rise in remote and hybrid working practices. With some employees spread across a country or, in some cases, the world, there is a need to monitor what they’re up to during the working day.

Employee monitoring involves companies using digital surveillance tools to track a range of metrics that are often linked to productivity. This data can provide insights into employee performance, behaviour and the number of hours worked. There’s a wide range of what’s considered employee monitoring, from proof of work capture to outright surveillance. In this article, we’ll take a look at the different tools available to employers and the potential drawbacks they can have.

Types of Employee Monitoring Software:

– Keylogging

This allows employers to record every keystroke an employee makes on their keyboard. There are two main issues with this type of software. The first is that any passwords or other sensitive data can be viewed by the person who is reviewing the data. This can pose a potential security risk to both the employee and the employer. The second is that, the majority of the time, employees aren’t made aware that the software is operational, which can lead to distrust and lower engagement levels.
For the vast majority of companies, keylogging isn’t necessary.

– Communication and Collaboration Apps

In a world where remote and hybrid working is becoming the norm for many, platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom have become crucial for collaboration and communication. Also, they’re more cost-effective than older technology such as voicemail, phone calls and texting.

These are arguably the most transparent monitoring methods, as everyone knows what is sent, the time and date of when it’s sent, and the recipient. Virtually all companies that allow remote or hybrid working will have this type of monitoring.

The downsides from a monitoring perspective are pretty minimal, as it has become an accepted way to communicate at work. The two main drawbacks would come from a technical perspective (unstable internet connections) and a communication perspective as a lot of our communication is non-verbal.

– CCTV and Webcams

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are an effective method of monitoring work premises and deterring crime. In industries more reliant on physical labour such as construction, they are often crucial to a project’s success. However, when used for remote and hybrid workers, the popularity declines, and the use cases are questioned.

Some employees compare the technology to “spyware” or “Big Brother”. This is because monitoring employees through cameras is more to do with keeping an eye on what they’re doing as opposed to their productivity. Having a camera stare at you when working can instil fear and anxiety in staff, which negatively affects productivity.

– Time and File Tracking

It’s now fairly straightforward for employees to record how long they’ve spent on individual tasks as well as their total amount of time working. The data can then be used by senior management to create pricing strategies, deadline estimates and workflows.

This is a common tactic for a wide range of work environments, including advertising agencies, law firms, and software houses. The potential drawbacks are minimal in comparison with some other strategies, as the level of surveillance is limited to tasks and actions, rather than encroaching on employee privacy.

– Screen Capture

The Hawthorne effect claims that ‘increased observation equals increased productivity.’ Remote working has decreased the convenience of observation. This is partly why some companies are reluctant to allow employees to work from home.

Screen capture and/or screen recording is one way that some managers believe they can observe and consequently increase productivity. Some tools only focus on capturing work done on a device, while others focus more on recording all activity on the device, which begins to move into privacy violation territory.

– Internet Usage

We all are guilty of using work time to do things that aren’t work-related, but harmless in the grand scheme of things. 69% of men and 62% of women admit to surfing the internet for personal reasons whilst at work.

This is where internet monitoring comes in. It involves tracking the websites that are visited by an employee whilst working. For some jobs that require visits to social media sites and other seemingly ‘unproductive platforms’, tracking internet use can be a tricky process. For example, a social media manager will have to visit social media platforms, and an advertising creative will have to visit a wide range of sites in order to successfully respond to a client brief. As a result, for many jobs, simply looking at a list of websites doesn’t show if staff are being productive.

Additionally, these actions can border on privacy invasion, particularly if the justification is inadequate, i.e. if the company doesn’t handle sensitive data.

– Location

This method is more applicable for employees that are mobile, e.g. sales staff, property managers, regional directors. The GPS functionality on a vehicle, phone (work or personal) can be used to find out where employees are in real-time. In some industries, such as haulage and delivery, this is necessary as the tracking isn’t necessarily for the employee — it’s for the goods that they are delivering.

However, applying it outside of these scenarios, e.g. for employees that often work from home, is where intrusion-related issues may occur.

– Email

Email is similar to web apps where everyone using it understands that everything written can be easily tracked by anyone given access to it. Therefore, this isn’t a particularly invasive form of monitoring. In some cases, employees send emails to give themselves leverage if a dispute ever occurred and only hearsay evidence was available. Currently, over 50% of employers check their employees’ emails.

– Employee Engagement Software

At first glance, platforms such as Trickle aren’t seen as monitoring software, but in a way, they are — just the kind that is employee-led, not employer-led. Management staff can keep an eye on how employees are doing by their responses to ‘Trickles’. It enables employers to gain insights into how a worker is feeling or thinking. From this information, they can make more informed decisions on what steps to take. In our slightly biased opinion, this is the best way to monitor employees.

Employee Monitoring: The Employer Perspective

As we’ve mentioned before, employers want to feel as though they have some control over their employees and have implemented tools to do so. However, they can alienate their existing staff, causing them to become less engaged and less productive, some could end up leaving for another job that prioritises employee trust.

Employee Monitoring: The Employee Perspective

From the employee standpoint, monitoring does signal a lack of trust if there are more intrusive measures put in place, such as webcam monitoring and keylogging. Time and file tracking, as well as employee engagement platforms, have a far more logical use case for most workplaces.

Activate Healthy Employee Monitoring With Trickle

Employees do need to be monitored, but not to see if they’re misbehaving. Monitoring only works when it is done in a healthy and productive way that doesn’t invade anyone’s privacy. Trickle can provide this. Click the link below to get your free demo today.

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