Employee Monitoring Software: Is it to Bolster Productivity or to Invade A Worker's Privacy?
Mon, August 15, 2022

Employee Monitoring Software: Is it to Bolster Productivity or to Invade A Worker's Privacy?


Surveillance software monitors what remote workers do on their devices by tracking their key strokes, taking regular screenshots, and using other methods, explained Kaya Ismail of CMS Wire, a site that covers martech, digital customer experience, digital workplace, and information management sectors.

While these tools measure one’s productivity, these may actually reduce productivity for some workers that feel they are not trustworthy enough. As more people are working from home due to the pandemic, many workplaces are concerned about their workers not being as productive as they were in the office, said Sara Morrison of Vox Recode, a news site that uncovers and explains how the digital world is changing. 

Monitoring Employees: Is It for Privacy or for Protection (2019)?

Suzie Blaszkiewicz of Get App, an ecosystem of business app and software discovery problems, found that 43.3% of respondents saw monitoring as an invasion of privacy (versus 10.4% in 2019) and 38.7% said monitoring should be reserved for specific incidents (versus 25.4%).

Only 18% said that constant monitoring is necessary to safeguard their company (versus 38.7%). In 2019, 25.4% said that monitoring is not essential but it is a good option to have. 72% said they have access to employee conversations taking place on internal communication tools, up from 2015’s 56%.

Regarding the frequency of monitoring conversation on internal chat tools, 47.2% said often in 2019 (versus 22.5% in 2015), 31.2% said sometimes (versus 22.5%), and 16% answered rarely (26%). Only 5.6% of respondents said never (versus 29%). When asked about their primary driver for monitoring employee conversations, 29.7% said they do so to monitor employee productivity and 24.6% answered that it is to check if employees are following company communication policies.

Further, 22% of respondents admitted that they are curious to see what employees are saying about the company. 11.8% said they monitor employee conversations to see an incident that needs to be addressed. 11% said they monitor employee conversations because their industry requires it by law. 0.9% said other.

When asked which communication tool the respondents predominantly use for internal chat, 29.5% said Google Hangouts, 21.4% answered Skype or Skype for Business, and 15.6% stated Slack. Other apps used by the company were Microsoft Teams (12.7%), WhatsApp (12.1%), Workplace by Facebook (5.8%), Yammer (2.3%), and other (0.6%).

The survey was conducted via Amazon Mechanical Turk on March 19 to gather data. The study involved those who live in the US, work full-time at a company with fewer than 200 employees, in a management level or above, and with access to employee communication on internal chat tools. 10 multiple choice questions were asked and a total of 173 qualified respondents completed the survey.



Knowing Employees’ Every Single Move

Jane works as a contractor for a translation agency based in Australia. Her employer monitors remote workers using TeamViewer, a program that mirrors everything from an employee’s laptop to their desktop computer. 

The employer and the computer are in the office, meaning he can see what his employees are doing from his desktop. Jane told Recode, “I barely get to stand up and stretch, as opposed to when I am physically in the office.” She added that she felt like having to be glued to her computer and work. Otherwise, the TeamViewer would log her as idle or Jane’s manager would send a check-in email that she must promptly attend to.

Teramind’s vice president of research and development, Isaac Kohen, reminded employers to consider the privacy of their employees along with what they expect from monitoring them. Kohen stated, “If you ignore employees’ right to privacy, you will risk legal ramifications, not to mention cultural rifts, loss of trust, and many other issues that will outweigh any security benefits you can achieve.” This can cause workers to feel they are spied on or not being trustworthy, which can jeopardize company culture.

Why Are Employers Interested In Surveillance Software?

John Moss, CEO of English Blinds, said many employers are investing surveillance software as a knee-jerk reaction. They don’t know how to ensure that their employees are performing during working hours. Some businesses even claim that letting workers know they are monitored helps bolster productivity.

This suggests that employers are not setting deadlines or milestones to see how an employee impacts a business. “They're not expecting clear outcomes from their employees, so they are tracking their presence instead,” said Khalid Belghiti, Scrypt’s founder. Moreover, surveillance software products erode the relations between employers and workers, which can prompt the latter to feel spied upon and mistrusted, Moss said. For Moss, these products are a form of micro-management that may do more harm than good in the long run.



In the End, It Comes Down to Trust

John’s employer was reluctant to send their employees to work remotely. His employer eventually allowed remote working, but John and his co-workers need to log their hours in a time-tracking program. John said that logging his activities can be a pain, saying that he could spend more time doing his job as a software developer.

However, he does not think that the time logs give proper context for job-related tasks that are necessary to complete an assignment. “You’ve got to call this person and talk to them and get ideas, or you need to browse the internet for a while to research a topic,” he said. In theory, it looks like you are wasting your time, but such activities help get the job done.

“If you have a lot of trust, then you probably expect that the organization is just trying to do the right thing,” stated Mac Quartarone, an industrial/organizational psychologist. If you don’t trust your company, then you are going to assume that your employer is trying to fire you or to find people that they need to fire.

Since employees are forced to work from home during the pandemic, having surveillance software installed may seem like getting work done is a punishment for something employees could not control. Quartatone recommended employers to grant employees as much autonomy as possible. Employers must also be transparent about what they are monitoring and why. If used in the right way, tracking software could outweigh the disadvantages. Quartatone added, “But I think if it’s done wrong, then the downside will vastly overshadow any positives.”

Some employees are not comfortable having their every move monitored by tracking software. Employee surveillance software monitors productivity, but it also suggests that employers do not trust their workers. Companies must grant employees as much autonomy as possible and be transparent about why they are tracking them.