Employee monitoring: A privacy breach or a productivity booster?

There are plenty of distractions in the office. Added to this are the distractions posed by the internet and social media. If left without supervision, employees may be using internet needlessly to stream videos, listening to music, playing games, messaging using social media apps, etc.

These activities consume an employee’s time and pose a threat to productivity. This also wastes an organization’s time and resources. Internet misuse in the office includes “accessing inappropriate content such as pornographic material, Internet gambling sites, virtual casinos, or sites that provide downloading of illegal music or video.” Obviously, internet misuse causes companies to lose billions of dollars annually.

The debate between privacy and productivity

It is, thus, understandable why organizations would want to invest in an employee monitoring system. However, there is also an ongoing debate regarding how much employee monitoring is sufficient and what practices make it questionable.

Companies such as Walmart, Gartner, Amazon, and others are seeking to invest in employee monitoring systems that are quite controversial. In 2018, Walmart patented an employee monitoring system that records conversations between employees and customers. The audio file could then be used to determine whether employees greet customers or not. Organizations often take extreme measures in monitoring their employees. What they don’t realize is that too much monitoring can make employees distrustful of an organization. Moreover, it goes against employee’s rights.

Big corporations tend to exploit employees. Last year, Amazon patented a wristband that vibrates when a task is performed incorrectly. Although these wristbands are not being used currently, such practices may be downright unpleasant. Micromanaging employees to the extent that it becomes difficult for them to function as a human is not the right way to monitor them. According to Amazon’s employees, the company has used similar technology to keep track of their whereabouts and are not surprised if these wristbands would be used in the future.

Due to surveillance at large, people in our times have become concerned about their privacy in private and public spheres. Governments, offices, retail stores, shopping centers, workplace, and social media collects data daily. This data can tell everything about us. Therefore, the concerns of this data falling into the wrong hands are valid.

On the flip side, employees at Three Square Market volunteered to have microchips implanted under their skin. The microchip, as small as a rice grain was implanted between the index and the thumb fingers. With the chip, employees could enter and exit the building using RFID, make payments for their lunch, etc. 50 out of 80 employees agreed to this type of surveillance. This shows that when an organization is transparent about its employee monitoring system, it helps create a sense of loyalty with the organization. Despite the fact that such technology could be used in the future for more sinister purposes, employees at Three Square market agreed to the procedure anyway.

Lennon Ray Brown, a former employee of Citibank, was imprisoned for 21 months because of damaging the company’s computers. Examples like these are plenty. Employee monitoring software ensures that employees are loyal to their organization. Using a software monitoring application, employers can be guaranteed that their employers are not leaking company secrets to competitors. It also ensures that employees are not harming the company’s operations in any way. Thus, an employee monitoring software can help filter disloyal employees.

How employee monitoring boosts productivity?

Despite what big corporations are doing, there is evidence that employee monitoring systems are beneficial. The data collected on an employee can improve employee productivity. Furthermore, 65% of employees prefer more feedback than they currently get. With machine learning and AI capabilities, an organization can transform meaningless data into useful insights for its employees. In addition to this, data can help employers determine employee peak productive hours. Thus, data provides valuable insights for an employer. These insights can be shared with employees to help them improve. It can also improve productivity by analyzing the tasks that drain energy and should be performed at a specific time of the day.

The option of remote work gives employees a free hand in managing their own schedule. However, for an employer, it is difficult to monitor and manage remote employees. In such a scenario, an employee monitoring system can provide benefit to both. Apart from monitoring what an employee does, employers can also determine the status of individual tasks. Hence, it bridges the gap in communication that many remote employees face.

Other than boosting productivity in the office, an employee monitoring system is also beneficial for a company’s safety. For example, an employee monitoring system, such as a video surveillance system, can provide security against internal theft. Moreover, it ensures that the company’s resources are being used appropriately.

Automated time and attendance systems, such as biometric systems provide accurate timestamps. This system can also save a company’s resources. The limits of what an employee monitoring system can do are only limited by our imagination. If utilized in the right way, it can provide benefit to employees.

What employers can and cannot monitor?

However, employee monitoring can only produce results when they are implemented within the legal limit. The legal rulings of employee monitoring depend on the law practiced in individual states. Particular employee monitoring systems are allowed in some states, while banned in others. However, in the majority of the states, an employer needs permission from the employee to monitor them.

The following should give an idea regarding what employers can and cannot monitor:

Can monitor:

  • The company’s property and equipment, which includes computers, laptops, and cell phones.
  • The keystrokes made using a computer, laptop.
  • Emails monitoring
  • Screen monitoring
  • The use of the internet provided by the company
  • Software downloads
  • Documents and files stored on the company’s systems
  • GPS location of a company-owned vehicle

Cannot monitor:

  • The personal device of the employee
  • Social media account of the employee
  • Activity in off-time

An organization should be responsible for the employee monitoring tools at their disposal. It must be transparent about the employee monitoring system in place. The example of Three Square Market shows that employees are willing to participate in employee monitoring if given the choice. This creates loyalty and, in the long, run promotes employee retention.

There is a variety of employee monitoring software available. Employee monitoring software allows you to manage teams, monitor employee activity, and ensure the safety of an organization.

Many organizations use video surveillance and GPS tools to track employees’ whereabouts. Such software can easily be installed on digital devices such as a smartphone or a tablet. As long as the device belongs to the organization, it is safe to install such software. However, in the case, the device belongs to the employee, it is illegal to install and track them.

Screen monitoring can also allow employers to be aware of employee activity. Thus, they can determine whether their employees are active or idle.

Employee monitoring is an essential function of an organization. Without this, employers cannot determine the caliber and skill level of an employee. It also allows employees to be aware of the quality of their work and improve. Without it, there aren’t any checks and balances which are essential for growing a business.

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