Employee monitoring can be considered important for several reasons, including employee productivity, prevention of time-wasting, the safety of company data and customer information, and concerns about the types of websites employees visit during working hours. It is also a helpful tool to track the time spent by employees on collaborative projects and to assess employee's performance for future pay reviews or promotions.
But even with all of this in support of employee monitoring, the question remains, should you be monitoring your employees?
There are many different types of employee monitoring, and each lends itself to a particular type of working environment. It's not just those who work online who are being monitored, cleaning staff, factory floor and warehouse workers, as well as office staff can all find themselves under the watchful eyes of monitoring software.
With more people working from home around the globe, the need for employee monitoring intensified. In the Technology Managing People Report1 carried out in 2020, more than one in seven employees reported that online monitoring by their employers had increased.
Should you be monitoring employee productivity?
Employee monitoring can be a contentious issue; it can have both positive and negative effects on the retention and performance of staff. Monitoring can allow employees to demonstrate their hard work and productivity, but it may also increase employees’ anxiety levels and decrease their trust in their employers.
When considering whether to monitor staff, the starting point should be the underlying concern and its purpose. Then, it would be best if you carried out an initial decision-making review stage to ensure that the monitoring chosen is proportionate to the risks you are looking to mitigate. You will also need to ensure compliance with the many legislative requirements of tracking software.
Before you proceed
Questions to ask yourself:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- What data are you trying to protect?
- Are you trying to ensure efficiency, or are there specific security concerns in question?
- Is this a one-off concern (such as the suspected leak of information by a particular individual), or is it a more general concern?
- Would monitoring the flow of communications be enough or do you need to monitor their actual content?
Once you have identified the reason for any monitoring, the next step should be to consider how the chosen monitoring method addresses the concerns identified. Consider if there are any alternative ways of meeting this purpose other than monitoring, as the courts and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) would expect you to take a less intrusive route where possible.
Should you choose to proceed with employee monitoring, you must ensure that it is implemented appropriately, compliantly and transparently.
The pros and cons of employee monitoring
According to a survey carried out by Clutch12 of 400 U.S. employees, there are pros and cons to employee monitoring.
- It can be a valuable tool to hold workers accountable and to motivate them.
- It gives employees the opportunity to demonstrate their hard work and productivity.
- It can be used to track the time employees spend on collaborative projects.
- Delivers the information needed to generate accurate billing.
- Assess employee's performance for pay reviews or promotions.
The cons of implementing an employee monitoring system:
- Most workers are not used to having their work closely monitored, making them suspicious and uncomfortable at work.
- The introduction of new concepts, regulations and software can be challenging.
- It can negatively affect employee morale.
- It can erode employees' trust in their company.
- Excessive or unnecessary monitoring may negatively impact an employee's physical and mental well-being.
Important things to note
- If a company chooses to monitor their employees, do not do it secretly.
- When choosing a system, consider the differences between workload, performance and productivity monitoring.
- Company communications to employees around the proposed monitoring will be vitally important.
- To be GDPR-compliant, employers must identify a legal basis for carrying out and processing the monitoring information and any exemptions for sensitive data.
- Employee consent is not a viable legal basis for processing personal data in the employment context.
- Limit access to any monitoring data, only those who really need access should be able to.
- Consider how to control access, including a permission process to facilitate access where required (for example, in the event of an employee grievance or disciplinary process).
- Accessing communications without grounds to do so could amount to criminal or other civil offences for the business and potentially its directors.
- Consideration must always be given to the employee's right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is also important to not use any data gathered via monitoring for any purpose other than why it was collected. Changing its purpose will raise questions around compliance and whether the monitoring was justified and whether the company appropriately informed the affected employees.
Covert investigations are risky and should be undertaken only in exceptional circumstances. They should be limited to cases where there is a legitimate reason for suspecting criminal activity or malpractice.
Employee tracking options
With so many new products emerging in this field, it’s hard to know what type of monitoring you need to achieve your goals. Here are a few options currently available and what they say can be achieved with their implementation:
- ActivTrak – work wiser with intelligent insights, understand how your team works, empower your people, create healthy work habits, optimise processes and skyrocket productivity.
- InterGuard – record, review, alert and block user activity, gain control and oversight, data loss prevention, web filtering and incident response.
- Occupeye – surveillance for facilities management, smart workplace sensor technology solutions, improve customer service, reduce costs and increase productivity.
Alternatively, you can use more subtle tracking strategy or productivity measurement formulas, to accomplish the goals of employee monitoring software, but without risking compliance issues or making their workers uncomfortable. These include:
- Measure productivity using a well-rounded method as detailed in our 'How do you measure the happiness of staff' article.
- To boost productivity holistically, give your employees purpose, a happy work environment and authentic trust. Read more.
- You can increase employee productivity by reducing presenteeism and absenteeism at work, click here to find out more.
There are many ways to track your employee time and boost productivity at work. Consider carefully if employee monitoring software is the best solution for your business. Before you go down this route, please read our guide on Can Employee Monitoring Increase Productivity?
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 businesses - so to find out more about how you can use happiness to improve productivity throughout your entire organisation, click here.
- Trades Union Congress (2020). Technology Managing People. The Workers Experience. Accessed June 2021 https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-11/Technology_Managing_People_Report_2020_AW_Optimised.pdf
- Roddy, Seamus (August 2020). Clutch HR, Pros and Cons of Employee Monitoring. Accessed June 2021 https://clutch.co/hr/resources/pros-cons-employee-monitoring