Even before the COVID pandemic pushed an unprecedented number of employees to work from home, many employers were already ramping up their endeavours for monitoring employee productivity. In a Gartner 2018 survey, out of 239 companies that participated, 50% of them were using employee monitoring techniques.
A year later, a survey conducted by Accenture on 1400 C level executives revealed that 62 % of organizations were using new technology and tools to collect data on their workforce. This shows employee monitoring was actively pursued before the pandemic enabled thousands of workers to work from home. The transition was quick and sudden, leaving employers wondering how much work was going on.
Gripped with the fear of unproductivity and declining revenues, many leaders were compelled to resort to non-traditional methods of tracking employee productivity. These debatable methods include skimming email content, clocking social media hours, and analysing spreadsheets to inspect employee utilization of work hours.
Legally speaking, employers are well within their rights to monitor workers. However, from a privacy perspective, has employee monitoring gone a bit too far?
Employee Monitoring comes at the price of privacy invasion concerns. Constant monitoring not only stresses and causes employee burnouts, but it also erodes trust, and in the worst scenario, invites a backlash, all of which contributes to decreased productivity. In 2019, Google was accused of creating an internal surveillance tool to suppress employee dissent. Not only did employees go public disapproving of being spied on, but they also staged protests against privacy invasion.
Instead of analysing employee’s every keystroke, employers should focus more on monitoring efforts that can help recognize and assist employees who need more help and deploy ethical means of respectfully monitoring them. Here’s how:
1) Clarify what you will be monitoring and why:
The Gartner survey mentioned earlier also revealed that 50% of employees were comfortable having their emails monitored when their employers justified, as opposed to 30% who were not previously clued in, and, why. When you honestly and openly communicate with your employees about what you will monitor, and allow them to share feedback, it has a higher employee acceptance rate. Being transparent and honest also shows you are respectful and ethical towards their privacy.
2) When creating metrics, involve stakeholders:
Sometimes hasty judgments based on numbers coughed up from an application, can lead to taking a reactive approach and making ill-informed decisions. So, if you are hell-bent on tracking your employees, make sure it is necessary and relevant.
For instance, monitoring every keystroke isn’t a trustworthy indicator of efficiency and productivity. So, it is wise to involve all stakeholders in deciding the productivity metrics, from managers, supervisors, and even employees whose activities are tracked. This not only improves employee engagement but also eliminates the fear of contributing without reprisal.
3) Don’t forget to offer carrots (along with sticks):
Monitoring should not come at the cost of feeling burdensome. Instead, figure out how to help your employees become more productive and rewarding them for their hustle, will be helpful in the long haul. The carrot and stick method is an excellent form of extrinsic motivation where you set the goal and accordingly, and communicate the reward and punishment related to it. Carrots could be in the form of reward and appreciation, commission on achieving sales targets, lunch out, etc. Sticks should be chosen in a way to motivate the employee to do better without being harsh. So it could be in the form of loss of a portion of sales commission, or work in an unfavourable shift.
4) Create an inclusive and diversified work culture:
One of the most critical aspects of inclusive and diversified work culture is the organization’s commitment to eradicate all discrimination’s against the traditionally marginalized populations. These groups are usually employed in junior roles and are subjected to more scrutiny. For example, they received a higher level of sentiment analysis and keystroke logger surveillance than their senior counterparts. So, instead of protecting the core groups of inclusion, this disproportionate monitoring can put your organization at notable ethical, legal, and reputational risks. It is safer to have a policy that applies evenly to all employees rather than having one that entails guidelines for most employees.
5) Empathize with your hard workers:
These are hard times and it will only be unfair (ethically and factually) to decide who is a hard worker and who isn’t, judging on their current performance. A talented and usually top-performing employee working from home might be stretched far too thin for some reason, say, for example, lack of childcare options. You simply can’t afford to lose a talented and valuable worker who isn’t performing to their full potential, that too temporarily. Managers and supervisors should take out time to talk to them when there are repeated instances of under-performance. Ensure that the conversation has an empathetic undertone that reflects an understanding of the employee’s situation. Remember that your first option should be to offer creative solutions, rather than skip straight to issuing warnings and threats.
6) Limit monitoring whenever possible:
The urge to monitor impulsively is expected, especially in these times. But as people return to the workplace, and some continue to work remotely, companies can afford to pull back close introspection where things are going smoothly. Limiting monitoring communicates trust to your employees and also frees you from micromanaging when it isn’t necessary. Autonomy evokes a sense of trust and belonging within employees, and guarantees enhanced motivation and engagement.
Employees are the most valuable and irreplaceable asset to any organization. Hence, treating them respectfully is not only morally and ethically right, but it is also critical for your organization’s retention efforts. However, if your organization opts for surveillance techniques to eradicate the benefits of doubt, ensure that you monitor employees with an outstretched hand, instead of a raised baton.