Employee Monitoring and Privacy

With technological developments changing how we work, can employee monitoring increase productivity?

Globally, we are currently undergoing a seismic technological reimagining. There is a shift away from the traditional role that IT plays in businesses, to a merger of business and technology strategies, whereby the role of technology in business is being redefined.

Organisations who are on-board with this shift are looking for ways to leverage technology to redesign current work outcomes, their workforce and the workplace. One aspect of this technology progression over the past few years, is employee monitoring. The development of this tracking software allows companies to filter, track and observe employees' online behaviour.

What is employee monitoring?

Employee monitoring can encompass any activity involving the surveillance or observation of staff members. It can be carried out via spot checks, specific checks, monitoring focused on the activity of individuals, or random monitoring targeted at particular individuals.

Employee monitoring software is increasingly used by many businesses to record time spent connected to a CMS or a network. It logs what applications are in use by the employee, including keystrokes, internet searches, mouse clicks, social media use and other metadata. The software can even take screenshots or provide live video feeds to ascertain if the employee is focusing on work or not.

Why would you want to monitor staff?

With technological developments such as portable devices, cloud-hosting software, collaboration tools and on-line group chats, the “workplace” can now be anywhere in the world, with staff working from their homes, a cafe or an overseas office. This allows organisations to find talented employees from around the globe, instead from within the limited geographical pool of their own city or country. The result of this shift to more remote working has resulted in employers needing to monitor how each employee is spending their time at work and to track their productivity.

Other reasons for monitoring a worker’s computer include, an employer's need to prevent copyright infringement (through staff not using licensed software at home) and to prevent employees using social media during working hours.

Monitoring software can track productivity, trustworthiness and performance, but it is also often carried out for safety, security and the protection of assets. This could include guarding against the compromise of the employers' systems (such as hacking or viruses), or the health and safety of both staff and customers.

Employee monitoring can also ensure data protection rules are observed and prevent client records' circulation, which could impact client confidentiality. Companies may also want to reduce the possibility of trade secrets being released or manage reputational issues, such as the need to close down gossip or limit cybersecurity issues such as phishing and hacking.

Does it increase productivity?

Employee monitoring, when used in a transparent and constructive way, can help organisations to track how employees spend their time, limit distractions and optimise productivity. Employees who know their time spent on-line is being monitored are less likely to access social media or entertainment channels during working hours.

The advantage of using this technology for both employers and employees is that it provides the opportunity to evaluate an individual’s productivity and use this data in performance reviews and potential promotion or wage increase.

Are there risks?

As well as the financial cost to employers, there is a risk that using this monitoring software may result in damaged trust with their employees and an increased security risk.

A 2019 survey1 found that 52% of workers think that the use of new sources of workforce data collection risks damaging their trust, and 64% felt that scandals over the misuse of data makes them concerned that their employee data may be at risk. On the upside, this survey also found that 92% of workers are open to the collection of their working data if it improves their performance or well-being.

Data breaches are another risk that needs to be considered when implementing employee monitoring. With the sheer volume of the data collected and the possibility that that data may contain employees’ personal data, such as medical of financial details, this data must be securely stored, and the risk of hackers is a potential risk with huge consequences.

For an employee of an organisation who uses monitoring software, this level of constant observation may lead to anxieties and fears of wrongdoing, even if they have nothing to hide. This surveillance may also result in a mistrust of the employer and the perception that they are waiting to catch you out, rather than an employer having a genuine focus on the employees levels of productivity and identifying areas for improvement.

employee monitoring

The legalities

Data collected via monitoring software should only ever be used for the purpose for which it is collected. Workplace monitoring usually involves processing personal data and in the UK is governed by a whole host of legislation, which impose criminal and civil sanctions if breached, including the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 and the Data Protection Act 2018.
If an employer wants to use the data gathered via monitoring software for the management and discipline of employees, it must make this clear to them prior to doing so. Otherwise, they will be in breach of key provisions of the GDPR and employment legislation and could be exposed to additional claims and risks.

If an employer wants to use the data gathered via monitoring software for the management and discipline of employees, it must make this clear to them prior to doing so. Otherwise, they will be in breach of key provisions of the GDPR and employment legislation and could be exposed to additional claims and risks.

As there is rarely any legal obligation, public interest or contractual requirement basis for processing location tracking data, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) [LINK: https://ico.org.uk/] and UK courts see location tracking as a particularly invasive form of employee monitoring.

Employee consent is rarely valid, meaning employers will have to work hard to justify implementing such tracking. A company may wish to track the location of assets, such as laptops, tablets and phones; if so, the tracking should be entirely anonymous, and many EU countries may still prohibit it.

employee monitoring

Before you consider implementing this form of technology, ask yourself, is monitoring an effective way to manage employee behaviour and increase productivity? Are there other less intrusive or more cost-effective ways to address this? Read our blog, Should You Be Monitoring Employee Productivity? [Link to blog post B2B06b] to find out more about employee monitoring.

In this series, we are looking to unlock the secrets behind empowering, engaging and motivating your entire workforce with the power of happiness. Although they are often under-represented within existing productivity and business development guidance, Blue Arrow believes that temporary workers are an integral part of the wider workforce driving your business. To find out more about how you can use happiness to improve productivity throughout your entire organisation, click here. 

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  1. More responsible use of workforce data required to strengthen employee trust and unlock growth, Accenture Report, [internet], published 21 January 2019, accessed July 2021. https://newsroom.accenture.com/news/more-responsible-use-of-workforce-data-required-to-strengthen-employee-trust-and-unlock-growth-according-to-accenture-report.htm

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