Slack surveillance: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

Employers may have the right to monitor employees’ internal communications, but there are potential downsides to consider.
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We could devote a week’s worth of coverage to the questionable HR decisions Elon Musk has made since taking over Twitter on October 27. But for now, we’ll just focus on his recent firing of employees, allegedly over their Slack messages, and what HR should consider before following suit.

While HR pros and executives have the means and right to track employees’ activity on internal communications platforms such as Slack, experts warn that doing so could have negative effects in the long term.

What happened? Twitter’s new CEO made headlines (again) on November 17, when he reportedly fired “dozens” of employees who had allegedly said negative things about him on the company’s internal Slack channels.

One of the employees who was fired, a software engineer named Nick Morgan, tweeted a screenshot of the email he received letting him know he’d been terminated. The message was simple: “We regret to inform you that your employment is terminated effective immediately. Your recent behavior has violated company policy.”

HR, take note. Employee surveillance is nothing new, and many companies (including Twitter) tell employees that they’re not entitled to privacy or protection for what they say on internal communications platforms.

Brian Kropp, VP of HR research at Gartner, told the Wall Street Journal in August that communication monitoring is an area of growth among employers.

“We are seeing growth [in] text-analytics techniques applied to employee communications, including email and Slack,” he explained. “Employers are trying to get a sense of whether employees are talking about changes in policies, whether external factors are becoming more common in their conversations, etc.”

However, HR leaders may want to consider the potential repercussions of spying on employees. Some 59% of remote and hybrid employees who responded to a 2021 ExpressVPN survey said being watched by their employer increased their stress and anxiety. Surveillance can also erode the relationship between employees and their company, making them less likely to trust anyone, from colleagues to HR and management.

“When people start to feel that way about the surveillance that they’re subject to, they get a sense that work conditions are less fair and less just, they have lower job satisfaction, they have lower commitment, they have lower creativity and autonomy,” Kirstie Ball, professor of management at the University of St Andrews, said in an interview with ZDNet. “And they feel they’re not trusted. Their stress levels go up, and what that means is that they are more likely to quit.”—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.