December 10, 2020
The number of companies monitoring their employees is growing. According to a Gartner survey, more than 22 percent of employees use employee movement data, while 17 percent of them are monitoring computer usage. With companies choosing to monitor employees, privacy laws are also catching up, and thus there is a need for explaining employee monitoring to prospective hires. Employee monitoring is defined as the use of monitoring devices and methods by companies to learn about their employees’ workplace behaviours and performance.
This makes it easier for employers to track employee attendance, employee engagement, workplace productivity, security of assets, and tracking proof for any disputes. Some companies also use email-tracking, GPS tracking, monitoring keystrokes and phone calls, taking screenshots, and strategic placement of surveillance cameras.
A 2018 study by Lockwood collected data from various employers who gave their reasons for adopting employee monitoring strategies. The study further revealed the benefits of employee monitoring in the workplace. However, employees were more receptive of the idea of employee monitoring when the policies were explained to them early on.
The employer’s objective should be to tactfully, yet honestly, communicate to their employee what the basics of employee monitoring are, and what the differences between spying and workplace monitoring are. They should also be enlightened about the necessity of monitoring their performance at work and its effect on organizational success.
A company has many assets in addition to its employees, such as inventory, equipment, cash, documents, etc. These, even though they are well-protected by most serious employers, can catch the eyes of someone who lacks workplace ethics. On a jocular note, there is the stereotype of the employee who steals office supplies or their employees’ lunches, other people’s property, or even worse, data from a computer they’re not supposed to have access to.
In the words of a security manager from a financial firm in Lockwood’s study: “It is common and relatively straightforward for workers to abuse the use of company property and assets, so monitoring is not unreasonable. The failure to do so would constitute poor management.”
Explaining this to a prospective hire should be done tactfully. It will be counterproductive to make them feel untrustworthy. The goal isn’t to make the prospective hire feel like a potential criminal.
Instead, the focus of the explanation should be on how there are always a few bad eggs in every organization and that the purpose of having a monitoring system is to enforce discipline in the workplace, which is in the best interest of the prospective hire.
Prospective hires need to feel secure that their time, talents, and work will not be taken for granted—or even worse, be abused. Employers do not want cases of harassment, because they can—among other things—potentially ruin the brand name of the company. The harassment could be from an employer or an employee. Whatever the case, unjust behaviors must be absolutely discouraged.
Having surveillance cameras placed in strategic parts of the workplace may seem like an invasion of privacy, but the same level of privacy that one enjoys in their home does not apply to the workplace. Prospective hires need to be told that their right to a harassment-free workplace demands that certain measures be put in place.
This does not apply to desk-jobs as much as it does to some work environments, such as warehouses and construction sites. Certain workplaces, due to the risks involved therein, call for specific safety and health compliances. Typical examples are gloves in the kitchen, and helmets, boots, and earmuffs at a loud and busy construction site.
Non-compliance to these safety regulations is not only detrimental to the company image, should word go out to an inspector or the news, but could also be a potential hazard to the employees themselves.
Prospective employees, as we’ve discussed earlier, are the most valuable asset to the company. Hence, employers should take strict measures to explain the monitoring laws behind the employees’ safety and health in the workplace, highlighting the idea that protecting their most valuable asset is their number one priority.
Every good employer understands that their employees are not caged birds or mules tied to a farm. Most employees will have to spread their wings at different stages of their careers.
Career growth can happen within the company or outside of it. In the former case, employers need to have strong knowledge about how employees advance up the career ladder. This can convince the prospective hire the promotion is fair and well-organized. According to Lockwood’s study, pre-employment screening and screening employees before promotions is an increasingly common practice. Employee monitoring tools help HR personnel to conduct background checks relating to workplace behavior and to carry out, in depth performance assessment.
An essential part of screening that comes to mind is the use of drugs in the workplace. Drug use in the workplace can put a large dent in a company’s reputation. One manager from Lockwood’s study even went on to state:
“I strongly support the idea that employers should have the legal right to test all workers for drugs or alcohol if they wish, irrespective of their occupation. I think it should be done every Monday morning. It relates not just to health and safety issues but also directly to the quality of work performance.”
As is the case of protecting company equipment, prospective hires need to have this explained to them in a manner that does not label them as potential drug abusers or unethical workers who’ll cut corners in a bid to climb the corporate ladder. Policies and laws regarding this have to be explained either as a hypothetical or as a real-life example from a real organization.
Employees have days where they tend to lose focus or are unable to give their best. This is quite common and is to be expected, especially in remote work.. The problem is when it becomes a routine for a specific employee.
Vincent Bucciachio, founder of the digital marketing agency SociallyInfused Media, remarks “lack of employee engagement cost the US economy around $550 billion in 2019–not addressing disengagement is a serious organizational concern that has real, tangible financial impacts.”
Unless distraction management tools are used, some employees can get off-track and spend valuable work hours on leisurely activities. Such employees need to be tracked and given disciplinary action: firstly, to be made an example of; and secondly, to give them a warning that slacking off at work will not be tolerated. This strategy is especially effective in cases where the business is operating under a remote work model.
Finally, prospective hires need to be told that every employee within the context of the organization is like a wheel or other essential part of a clockwork. If one’s performance plummets, other employees will have to waste work hours cleaning up the mess the distracted employee must have made.
However, employers mustn’t fail to explain the scope of monitoring. Prospective hires will feel reassured if they know that it isn’t only the non-decision making employees that are monitored, but that the managers are being monitored as well. And that extensive monitoring will guard against corruption, unfair work practices and workplace bullying.
In addition, monitoring employees ensures that the health and safety of the company’s most valuable asset, the employee, is maintained and supervised at all times.
It enables a safe workplace where all are given an equal and fair opportunity to climb the corporate ladder without the use of unfair practices while protecting the company’s image by surveilling drug-use or other criminal activity. The overall goal is to improve workplace productivity and maintain a positive workplace culture.
Image by Konstantin Kolosov
Chioma Iwunze writes about productivity in the workplace, remote work, time management and business.