Employee Monitoring: Pros, Cons & Considerations

pros and cons of employee monitoring

Organizational leaders and business owners concerned about cybersecurity and productivity are facing a dilemma right now, asking themselves, “How can we build trust with our employees when we need to use employee monitoring tools?”

After all, employee monitoring seems antithetical to building employer-employee trust, particularly when you consider that, according to a recent PwC survey, the lack of trust between executives and workers is only growing.

At the same time, the prevalence of unethical remote work practices like “mouse jiggling” on personal devices has led major corporations like Wells Fargo to investigate and terminate employees who fake work, further eroding trust between team leaders and workers.

While employee monitoring can lead to dishonesty and suspicion on both sides of the issue, there is a way to monitor activities transparently and respectfully of their autonomy—and ensure you avoid legal concerns. In this article, we explore the potential positive and negative impact of employee monitoring and offer best practice tips for balancing trust and security.

The Pros of Employee Monitoring: A Path to Optimism

For organizations that genuinely care about their people’s success, monitoring employee computer activity can be a helpful practice for making the work experience better for everyone — as long as it’s implemented honestly, and unambiguously. 

This could mean clearly communicating the purpose of the monitoring, ensuring that it’s used only for productivity and security purposes, and respecting employees’ privacy. Let’s explore a few specific advantages of employee monitoring in detail so you can make a more informed decision about whether it’s right for you.

Increased Employee Productivity and Better Resource Management

Monitoring employee productivity with employee consent allows you to identify inefficiencies and needless tasks that prevent team members from contributing to strategic goals. This means that managers and organizational leaders need to start by collaborating on business strategies, which only 30% of C-level executives currently do.

“It infuriates employees when business leaders implement changes that impact the workforce without first asking for their input and thoughts on the matter,” writes recruiting expert Jack Kelly for Forbes. “The workers feel as if their voices don’t matter.”

Instead, organizational leaders should ditch the “stealing from company time” ethos and approach employee monitoring technology with a collaborative mindset. They should collaborate to implement productivity-tracking solutions and resource allocation tactics that make sense for meeting shared business goals and outcomes.

Enhanced Security

Cybersecurity threats and malicious insiders affect not only company data but also employee data. Moreover, AI has empowered bad actors with even more sophisticated tools for carrying out attacks. 

According to their research for Bessemer Venture Partners, cybersecurity experts Mike Droesch, Amit Karp, and Yael Schiff say today’s cybercriminals are “exploiting generative AI tools like ChatGPT to create highly targeted business email compromise (BEC) and other phishing campaigns. And we are already seeing widespread use of other AI tools like voice cloning services to deliver more impactful social engineering attacks.”

With the increase of these advanced attacks, company leaders are looking to create zero-trust security models. These models, which include employees as part of their defensive line, operate on the principle of ‘never trust, always verify ‘. This means that even within the company network, all users and devices are treated as potential threats, making increased security one of the benefits of employee monitoring.

This is why organizations need enhanced employee monitoring platforms that also offer comprehensive behavior analysis. This could include tracking the frequency and timing of data access, monitoring for unusual data transfer patterns, and flagging any attempts to access unauthorized data. These features allow leaders to establish a behavioral baseline for network navigation and information sharing that better protects them from intentional or unintentional data breaches.

Improved Quality Control

When employees feel engaged, satisfied, and effective in their roles, they can easily adhere to compliance and security policies and procedures. However with global employee burnout on the rise, companies need automated platforms that monitor for quality assurance. 

Why? Not only is it contributing to more occurrences of ​​sleep disturbances, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal issues, depression, absenteeism, and job dissatisfaction in the workforce, but, as professor and burnout expert Kandi Wiens writes for HBR, “burned-out workers are more likely to make errors and less likely to be innovative and productive. Gallup estimates low employee engagement (a hallmark of burnout) costs the global economy $8.8 trillion, or 9% of the global gross domestic product.”

Employee monitoring software has tangible benefits as long as it’s not being used to hold stressed-out employees accountable. It can help managers and team members pinpoint areas where quality assurance and QR processes may have been neglected and identify opportunities for employee training and skill development when needed.

Cons of Employee Monitoring

Without a clear, honest plan of action that takes employee interests and goals into account, employee monitoring can lead to broken trust and unethical use of data. Let’s explore the potential disadvantages of employee monitoring in greater depth.

Invasion of Privacy and Decreased Job Satisfaction

“There are good and not-so-good reasons to use monitoring software,” says David Brodeur-Johnson, Forrester’s principal analyst and employee experience research lead in a piece for SHRM. “It has everything to do with what your intent is as an employer and whether your employees trust that intent. If your goal only is to find slackers and punish them, it likely will create problems in terms of employee motivation and retention.”

In terms of privacy concerns, this illustrates that if workers feel that employee monitoring uses invasive methods and is only being used to surveil their work and penalize them for not meeting unclear expectations or taking too many “browsing breaks,” it could decrease employee morale even among high-performing workers and make them feel that executives don’t trust them and see sacrificing autonomy among employees and privacy rights merely as the cost of doing business. 

Besides employee turnover and retention issues, monitoring remote employees without their consent could land your company in legal trouble for privacy invasion. For instance, California is conducting deeper investigations into potential violations of the California Consumer Privacy Act, which also protects employees from employers looking to share or sell their personal data and gives them the right to opt out from sharing personal information.

Potential for Misuse of Data: A Cautionary Note

Employees aren’t just worried that employers could be sharing or selling their employee monitoring data — they’re also concerned that managers and supervisors are using their user activity reports and user activity tracking to unfairly target them. 

Remember, for example, that U.S. employees are protected from discriminatory workplace practices by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC investigates complaints of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or genetic information.

That means if an employee can make the case that your company’s leaders use employee monitoring software to bully or intimidate individual employees belonging to an underrepresented group, your company could face both compensatory and reputational damage for failing to prioritize employee safety. 

Cost and Resource Intensive

Without clear goals and an action plan for implementing employee monitoring software, you could end up in a long-term contract with a software provider that isn’t right for your employee needs and a drain on available company resources. 

The fact is, employee monitoring and cybersecurity platforms aren’t just costly to implement—they also require ongoing maintenance, routine updates, and heavy involvement from a data analytics team to ensure your company is using them effectively.  

If your company isn’t ready to divert more needed resources from key business areas, that doesn’t mean you should take employee monitoring tools off the table forever. It may mean, however, that you need leadership to work together to create a strategic plan for employee monitoring with a clear ROI that also considers employee needs.

Balancing Employee Monitoring with Privacy and Trust

Monitoring employee activities doesn’t have to be unethical, although it’s not without its fair share of potential pitfalls. When employers collaborate with team members on its implementation, employee monitoring tools can improve the work experience for everyone company-wide, regardless of their role.

Establishing clear company policies and guidelines for monitoring

Employees don’t want to feel like they’re constantly being scrutinized or, worse, micromanaged, regardless of whether they’re working in office or in a remote environment. To avoid this, it’s best to collaborate on employees on an employee monitoring strategy that benefits everyone. 

Before implementing your monitoring policies and getting employees to sign off on them, your human resources team should conduct an anonymous, open-ended survey. Ask employees:

  • In which ways, if any, could employee monitoring tools help you improve your work experience?
  • Are there employee monitoring practices you’re completely against? If so, why?
  • What is your biggest concern about implementing employee monitoring tools, and why?

Using their answers, work together with departmental leaders to create clear guidelines for employee performance monitoring that benefit everyone, not just managers and other leadership.

Communicating transparently with employees about monitoring practices and acceptable use policies

Make sure team members know your company’s exact reasons for monitoring employee activities. You shouldn’t, for instance, say that you’re tracking employees for cybersecurity reasons alone yet refer to their internet usage statistics in a performance review.

Let workers know exactly what metrics and activities you track, how you report those activities, how those metrics affect business processes, and whether employees will be held accountable to those activities. Never let employees feel surprised or ambushed with employee monitoring data in a performance review or a manager check-in.

Ensuring compliance with legal and ethical standards

If employees’ growing suspicion isn’t enough of a reason to be more considerate in your approach to workplace monitoring and privacy standards, then consider how the issue of growing government oversight could lead to legal issues. 

In the U.S., House Democrats recently introduced the Stop Bosses Spying Act, which would expand employee privacy rights and “prohibit, or require disclosure of, the surveillance, monitoring and collection of certain worker data by employers.” This act would curtail employer surveillance activities on their employees, such as performing “off-duty data collection” or any activities that could interfere with union organizing. 

If passed, it would also require employers who collect data on their workers or job applicants to disclose that information in a timely manner “that is conspicuous, freely accessible and readily available for viewing by any such covered individual of the employer (including on the internet in a manner that is freely accessible and machine readable).”

In essence, privacy laws and legislation like the Stop Bosses Spying Act isn’t meant to prohibit employee monitoring entirely but to encourage businesses to be more transparent and ethical in how they collect and share workplace data.

Focusing on performance outcomes rather than constant surveillance

Using employee monitoring software to metaphorically look over workers’ shoulders might force employees to appear productive, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to drive key outcomes for your business, especially if they have an expectation of privacy.

Instead, focus on what both in-office and remote employees want, which is to be part of a culture of trust where they use their skills and strengths to deliver strategic results for your business. That’s why your company culture should prioritize employee development, coaching, and personal growth rather than using constant surveillance to keep them on task. 

FAQs

What are the positive and negative aspects of employee monitoring?

The positive aspects of employee monitoring include increased productivity, improved compliance with company policies, and enhanced data security. However, the negative aspects include invasion of privacy, decreased employee trust and morale, and potential for biased monitoring practices.

What are the risks of employee monitoring?

The risks of employee monitoring include invasion of privacy, reduced employee trust and morale, and the potential for biased monitoring practices.

What are the advantages of monitoring employee performance?

The advantages of monitoring employee performance include increased productivity, improved adherence to company policies, and enhanced data security. Monitoring can help identify areas for improvement, provide valuable insights for performance evaluations, and ensure that employees are meeting expectations.

What are the ethical issues with employee monitoring?

Ethical issues with employee monitoring include invasion of privacy, potential for misuse or abuse of collected data, and erosion of trust and morale among employees.

Conclusion

Employers and experts have been hotly debating the topic of employee monitoring for the past couple of years, and its ethics have recently come into question with the evolution of AI and recent “fake work” firings. 

Still, it’s possible to use employee monitoring tools in a way that improves the work experience, enhances your workplace culture, and elevates any business strategy.

And that’s where Teramind comes in. By uncovering inefficiencies and encouraging more transparent monitoring practices, Teramind offers employee monitoring automations and business intelligence tools, providing you with valuable insights you need to you drive better business results and boost employee satisfaction.

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