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The pros and cons of employee monitoring

Published on February 21st, 2019 by Triton Benefits & HR Solutions

The most efficient way to improve productivity is to study your workforce's current output, analyze the behavior and then make the necessary adjustments. Although state laws do vary, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 does enable businesses to monitor an employee's use of employer-provided devices in the interest of bettering the company, and placing cameras and microphones in an office area or place of work is also allowed under federal law.

Generally, the only federal limits that exist on a business' ability to watch workers involve eavesdropping or spying in areas where personal rather than professional discussions occur, such as cafeterias, bathrooms and locker rooms, according to SHRM. Most state-level regulations involve the issue of informed consent, meaning employers typically just need to communicate with employees about monitoring beforehand and receive written confirmation that they agree to it.

Thanks to such soft regulations and technological advances, the practice of employee monitoring has become increasingly mainstream over the past two decades. In 1997, the American Management Association found that 35 percent of major companies monitored their employees' use of e-mail, Internet or phone. According to ABC News, that number had risen to nearly 80 percent by 2018. 

However common it's become, the act of keeping close tabs on employees can still raise potential privacy issues, or prove counterproductive if morale is negatively impacted by the sense of surveillance. For this reason, employers should carefully weigh the pros and cons of employee monitoring, with an eye towards mitigating the latter.

Improving performance, customer satisfaction and focus

The primary aim and advantage of employee monitoring is to evaluate and improve performance. For example, if you listen to a monitored phone call, you can analyze the employee's performance and provide constructive feedback. Furthermore, the employee's enhanced abilities should translate to greater customer satisfaction.

Monitoring is also a good way to improve efficiency by finding and targeting distractions. Reviewing web usage can help employers determine which shopping, news and entertainment sites or other non-work-related online activities are wasting time.

Once a business has amassed enough data, it can use that intelligence to draw broader conclusions about how employees work best, what tools they need to succeed and when they are at their most productive. Organizations can also apply this knowledge to the training of new employees, and may even use employee recordings as examples for fresh hires.

There are also some distinct benefits for employees, who can evaluate their own personal productivity, track their progress and use the data as supporting evidence when negotiating salary raises. Additionally, if the results of the monitoring indicate that employees are more productive when working from home, they could be rewarded with more remote working privileges, notes Customer Think.

Employees often balk at the idea of someone looking (or listening) over their shoulder. Employees often balk at the idea of someone looking (or listening) over their shoulder.

Navigating privacy concerns and employee backlash

While technology has made it so that employers can monitor nearly everything, it also complicates the question of whether or not they actually should, particularly considering the impact it has on workers. Most employees don't enjoy the feeling of being micromanaged, or the even more sinister sense that "Big Brother" is always watching.

Businesses can now keep an eye and ear on their employees through the use of video surveillance, recording of phone calls, tracking of internet usage and even monitoring of how much time they spend typing. Although all of that data can be immensely valuable, obtaining it can prove to be more trouble than it's worth if employees feel so stressed out by the perceived invasion of privacy that they perform poorly or even seek employment elsewhere.

In light of this fact, it's recommended that employers carefully weigh the expected financial benefits of employee monitoring against the potential demoralization that could be caused by the disruption.

If you do decide to pursue such measures, be sure to clearly and proactively communicate to your employees why and how monitoring is being put into place. When doing so, it's also best to emphasize that the purpose of the monitoring is to improve overall productivity rather than target and punish underachieving associates.

If employees are warned well in advance of the implementation of new monitoring measures, and reassured that they will not be used for retribution, they will have far less to fear. 

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