Employers are monitoring workers. They may want to think twice

Experts say surveillance could erode mutual trust.
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· 3 min read

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Why does it feel like somebody’s watching you? Because at work, somebody probably is. And aside from the creepiness factor, recent research shows that workplace surveillance might be hurting, not helping, productivity.

Surveys suggest that employers are keeping tabs on employee activities, but experts warn it could damage employee trust and retention.

Big Brother is here. Nearly all employers are using some type of employee monitoring software, a March survey from Resume Builder found. Some 96% of respondents said they use at least one type of monitoring software, and nearly three-quarters of businesses admit to dismissing an employee based on that surveillance.

And companies are getting bolder about how they’re tracking employees, 37% say that employees are expected to share live video while working. Others take smaller steps, like tracking browser history on work devices, and even Slack messages. The rationale is that the majority (63%) of leaders believe monitoring has a strong impact on productivity.

Consequences. While employers may think it’s beneficial to keep tabs on what workers are doing to make sure they don’t engage in time theft, experts say it could be hurting their relationship with employees. Nearly seven in ten companies admitted that employees have quit because of monitoring.

David Welsh, associate business professor at Arizona State University, told Bloomberg that monitoring employees “will inhibit the sense of control that employees feel over their work and may lead them to act out in other ways.” They may engage in “productivity theater” and try to look productive rather than actually being productive, according to a survey from Visier; 33% of respondents said they do it to appear more valuable to their manager.

Furthermore, experts say that constant employee monitoring will hurt the trust that many in the workplace value. “At minimum, (employees) will feel like privacy is being intruded, but they’re also going to feel that the organization doesn’t trust them,” Ravi Gajendran, chair of the Department of Global Leadership and Management at Florida International University, told WPTV.

Christine Porath, business management professor at Georgetown University, told HR Brew that while surveillance often comes from a place of control, employers should focus on how to regain employee trust. “If I were an employer, I would work on making sure that I created a culture where they feel a sense of belonging, a sense of community, and that they’re feeling good about being a part of the organization.”—KP

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

Our HR newsletter delivers need-to-know industry news and insights to HR pros every weekday for free.