Workplace Surveillance- How do employees feel?


Fri, 08/26/2022 - 12:03

Any form of employee monitoring undertaken by an employer is termed workplace surveillance. This isn’t a new concept. It’s been here around for a long time. And unions have worked on it for just as long.

However, as technology has advanced, so have the methods available to employers for monitoring their employees. Employers can now use a plethora of new surveillance techniques, whereas, in the recent past, they had to rely on timesheets, bag checks, and closely monitoring their employees. 

As a result, workplace monitoring can now range from fairly basic and rudimentary surveillance to much more complex and technologically driven monitoring.

The environment you can create for your employees is crucial to their physical and emotional well-being.

Why do companies use them?

Why do companies decide to use these solutions?

  • To avoid data leaks and insider trading.
  • To safeguard office assets.
  • To regulate and control staff productivity.
  • To monitor Human Resources violations (e.g. discrimination, abuse, and any other inappropriate behavior).

How do employees feel about it?

There is no shortage of digital tools for corporate surveillance or employee monitoring, as privacy advocates call it. Several services enable stealth monitoring, live video feeds, keyboard tracking, optical character recognition, keystroke recording, and location tracking.

Employees who are now subject to increased levels of surveillance report feeling “incredibly stressed out” and afraid to speak up, a recipe for not only dissatisfaction but also burnout, both of which, ironically, reduce productivity. Monitoring may worsen a backlash; Google employees revealed spy tools purportedly made to stifle internal dissent in October 2019.

Employees continue to associate workplace surveillance with an invasion of privacy and distrust. Our survey results proved it.

  • At least 8 out of 10 employees believe that workplace surveillance invades their privacy, while 77% go even further and consider it a form of spying.
  • Many said that surveillance makes them feel that they are not trusted.

As appealing as it may be to implement monitoring to protect productivity, it also runs counter to recent corporate trends. Many organizations have pledged to improve the employee experience, with a particular emphasis on diversity and inclusion. There are not only solid ethical reasons to keep one’s eye on the ball but also good business reasons. According to the 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, 55% of millennials intend to leave employers, prioritizing profits over people. Retention should be a priority for all businesses given the high cost of hiring, and onboarding new employees, which becomes difficult and costly for companies that do not reflect those values. Given the risk of alienating employees and the other possibility of error and misapplication of these tools, it is very likely that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze for many.

Even so, some companies will find the tradeoffs worthwhile. The reasonable fear of a collapsing economy drives employers to monitor their employees to ensure they are productive and efficient. Indeed, they may have ethically admirable reasons for doing so, such as for the sake of their employees and the country’s overall health. Furthermore, if the tools are used to determine which employees require additional assistance, there may be even more reasons to monitor. However, if your company decides that it needs to monitor its employees (for whatever reason), it must do so in a way that maximizes employee respect.

Negative effects of constant WS

Keeping an eye on someone all day will not only make them uncomfortable but it will also cause them to doubt themselves and infringe on their privacy. Workplace surveillance has recently gained popularity. Every coin, however, has two sides. Excessive workplace surveillance can have a negative impact on employees’ mental health. Many surveys claim that surveillance can harm employees’ mental well-being by increasing stress, interfering with the unique working scheme, causing privacy issues, and so on. As a result, if the employee does not enjoy working, then productivity suffers.

Workplace surveillance according to many employees affects their work in many ways; like deprives employees of work autonomy, negatively affects their physical or emotional well-being, makes them afraid of being fired, negatively affects their job satisfaction, and makes them work less efficiently. Some have also claimed that workplace surveillance isn’t a good option, and should be restricted. Also, at the same time, many interviewees said that workplace surveillance is the new office normal and that they would accept being monitored at the workplace.

The following are some of the negative consequences of productivity monitoring.

  1. Trust Issues

Employees may feel that the company managers don't trust them or their claims, for which they keep on monitoring them. The idea that they are constantly being watched can create a lack of trust in employees' minds.

  1. Privacy Invasion

To work efficiently, each employee requires a personal space and setting, employees will feel violates if a company monitors their daily product and behavior. For instance, keeping track of one’s computer history while at work is not a good idea if the deadline is met.

  1. Affects employee morale

If the employee believes that his brief conversation with a coworker will land him in hot water due to constant monitoring, he may feel trapped. So if someone believes that even a small amount of interaction after a long meeting or working tirelessly will jeopardize their job, they will become demotivated and will not enjoy working.

  1. Reduces Retention

Employee productivity monitoring allows the manager to compare one employee to another based on their performance. This will result in increased stress and decreased job satisfaction. Employees who feel undervalued may seek employment elsewhere.

  1. Puts hindrances in the creativity

Employees may begin working in a set pattern due to constant monitoring of their working habits or daily productivity. They will lack autonomy and control over their work. Employees will follow the prototype without adding their ideas, resulting in a tedious job.

Performance Reviews and Employment Evaluation Based on Data

On the employer side, most of them said that they ‘actively track time spent by employees doing work [versus] other activities unrelated to work.’ Approximately three-quarters of employers said that they stored recordings (calls, messages, and emails) had informed an employee’s performance reviews, and some said that they fired employees because of the information collected related to their remote work.

From the employee’s perspective, they said that they have used the company’s laptop for the purpose that they’d find embarrassing if their employer found out. These potentially embarrassing purposes include using a work computer to chat and communicate with a partner or friends, conducting medical-related web searches, or engaging in potentially embarrassing bodily functions. Chats or messages with co-workers, “visiting job application websites”, and web searches around their romantic life were also mentioned.

Tips to monitor your employees while Respecting Their Privacy

Employee privacy matters a lot. So, employers must take the necessary steps to implement surveillance harmlessly and to maintain healthy relations at the workplace.

Or to cut to the chase, you can surely monitor your employees, but ensure they are comfortable with it and happy and satisfied with their job.  

  1. Involve all the relevant stakeholders while carefully choosing your metrics.

Putting numbers to things is simple, as it is making quick decisions based on software-generated numerical scores. This results in both unnecessary surveillance and rash decisions. It’s simply too easy to data that, in practice, has no bearing on productivity, efficiency, or revenue. If you insist on monitoring employees, ensure the information you collect is relevant and necessary. For example, simply continuing the number of emails sent or received is not a reliable indicator of productivity.

If you want the right metrics, include all the relevant stakeholders in the process to determine those metrics, from hiring managers to supervisors to those who are actually being monitored. In terms of employee engagement, it is essential to reach both experienced and new employees so that they can provide input without fear of retaliation. They can, for example, be in conversation with a supervisor- preferably not their direct supervisor, who has the authority to fire or promote them.

  1. Be transparent with your employees about the kind of stuff that you are surveilling and why.

Respecting someone entails taking the time to communicate with them openly and honestly. Inform your employees about what you’re monitoring and why. Allow them the opportunity to provide feedback. Share the monitoring results with them and more importantly, provide a system for them to appeal career decisions influenced by the data collected.

Transparency boosts employee acceptance. According to Gartner, only 30% of employees were comfortable with their employer’s monitoring their email. However, in the same study, when an employer disclosed that they would monitor employees and explained why more than half of them reported being comfortable with it.

  1. Offer both, carrots as well as sticks.

Monitoring or surveillance software is implicitly linked to overseers who are obsessed with compliance and submission. Oppressive governments, for example, link surveillance to the threat of fines and imprisonment. But you don’t have to use monitoring to oppress people. You should think of it as a tool to help you figure out how to help your employees be more productive or to reward them for their hard work. That means considering what kind of carrots can be used to motivate and boost relevant numbers rather than simply discouraging inefficiencies.

  1. Accept that doing excellent work is not always possible- at least not under present circumstances.

These are unique times and it would be wrong — both ethically and factually to decide whether an employee is a good and hard-working employee or not based on performance under these conditions. For example, some hardworking and talented employees may be stretched extremely due to a lack of school and childcare options. You want to keep these people because they add a lot of value in the long run. When the numbers aren’t what you want, ensure your supervisors take the time to talk to their subordinates. Again, that conversation should reflect an understanding of the employee’s situation and concentrate on creative solutions rather than threats.

  1. Conduct your own surveillance just to ensure that people of color and other vulnerable groups are not disproportionately affected.

A commitment to eliminating discrimination against the traditionally marginalized population is central to any company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Those populations, precisely because they have been marginalized, tend to occupy more junior roles in an organization- and junior positions frequently face the most scrutiny. As a result, there is a risk of disproportionately surveilling the very groups that a company’s inclusivity efforts are intended to protect, posing significant ethical, reputational, and legal risks. 

If employee monitoring is being used, the most junior employees mustn’t be surveilled to a greater extent than their managers, or at least not to the extent that places special burdens on them. For example, it would be particularly inconvenient if very junior employees were subjected to levels of surveillance- such as sentiments analysis or keyboard logging-that only slightly more senior employees were not. A policy that states, “this is how we monitor all employees,” raises fewer ethical red flags than one that says, “this is how we monitor all employees except the most junior ones, who are subjected to far more scrutiny.” In other words, equal application of the law legitimately dampens the force of discrimination charges.

  1. Decrease surveillance whenever possible.

The willingness to monitor is understandable, especially in these difficult times. However, as people return to their offices- and even as some still continue to work from home- look for places where monitoring efforts can be reduced. This instills trust in employees. It also corrects for the tendency to gain more control than is necessary when conditions are not severe as they once were.

WS in remote work

There are several reasons for which employers, as well as employees, are “uneasy” about WFH

Many businesses have implemented remote work policies in the last year to combat the spread of COVID-19. Almost three-quarters of employers said telecommunicating “gives them a sense of lack of control over their business,” and a similar number of employers said the work model makes them “uneasy” because they are unable to observe employees in person.

Employers most commonly monitor web history and the amount of time spent on these sites, apps used and time spent using these apps, and real-time screen monitoring. Other monitored activities include “active work hours” and log times, “periodic screen capture”, and chats and messaging logs. Emails, calls, messages, and videos are all regularly recorded communication channels.

The report also mentions other various “surveillance activities suspected by employees” which include “active work hours” and log times, emails (inbound and outbound), web history, time spent browsing these pages, and also chats and message logs.

According to the survey, 81% of employees are using at least one company-issued device. Roughly half of the employees are aware that their company is “actively surveilling their communication and online activities” whereas a lot of employees didn’t know that their company used a tool to surveillance their communication and/or online activities.

Employees stressed about monitoring software

The studies also show the number of stresses and anxieties these tools used for monitoring can cause to the employees. For example- more than half of the employees report “feeling stress and/or anxiety about their employer surveilling their online activity.” Other top stressors for employees include constantly wondering if they’re being watched, feeling stressed to work extended office hours. and taking less frequent breaks.

About half of the employees believe that monitoring software is a “violation of trust”, some employees say these tools make them feel “unappreciated” while some said that these monitoring tools make them “feel resentment.”


At the end of the day, your employees are your most significant resources. They have institutional knowledge and abilities that others lack. Since you have invested time and money in them, replacing them would be quite expensive. They not only deserve it, but it’s essential for a company’s retention efforts to treat employees with respect. You need to keep in mind that you are not the police if your organization decides to use surveillance software in this environment. Instead of using a raised baton to oversee personnel, use an extended hand.

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