Has Workplace Surveillance Gone Too Far?

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Jul 12, 2018

Jul 12, 2018 • by Rebecca Smith

According to recent data, almost 80 percent of all major companies are now actively monitoring their employee's use of the phone, internet, and e-mail. This represents a significant increase since 1997 when only 35 percent of companies were keeping tabs on their workers.

However, with more companies actively monitoring what workers are doing, the question of, when is it too much, is one that is asked often.

Learn more about workplace surveillance, steps companies have taken to keep "tabs" on what workers are doing and signs that your employee may be crossing a line, here.

While productivity and profits are important, some businesses need to be reminded that their employees are their biggest asset.

The Rationale Behind Workplace Surveillance

There is a huge range of technologies designed specifically for workplace monitoring. From hidden cameras to email "watching" devices, some of these are considered normal, while others are quite intrusive.

However, in an effort to help improve both profits and productivity, any employer's hands are forced, and they have to implement some type of monitoring measure.

It's not fair to make the claim there are no benefits offered by monitoring. It makes sure that all workers are pulling their own weight. Even with that in mind, some of the devices in use today may be somewhat intrusive.

The fact is, in the past few years, there has been quite a bit of controversy around workplace surveillance. There are some companies that are going overboard, while some may not be doing enough.

Getting the facts and understanding what is going on is the best way to form your own opinion. Use the information here to judge for yourself whether or not workplace monitoring is exceeding what is considered "normal" and "necessary."

While some claim that surveillance improves the office environment, others have a completely opposite opinion.

Old-Fashioned Monitoring Techniques

According to one report, the usual perception of workplace monitoring tools is pretty far off, today. In most cases, you may think of keyword monitoring. This is designed to detect any words that aren't a part of usual business communication.

However, today, the tools are much more innovative. They are more intrusive and more capable. The Guardian has given them the name of "digital panopticon," which can track a workers' every move.

Recording Your Every Move

The tools put in place today have the ability to analyze your browsing history through the data captured from network servers. Additionally, keyloggers can track everything you type in and, in many cases, your social media posts are even scrutinized.

This isn't something that only effects traditional, on-site workers, either. There are now freelance monitoring tools, too. These actually use your webcam to verify if you are sitting at your workstation.

These efforts are often used for home-based workers, as well as outsourced companies that have been hired to provide a service.

Are These Monitoring Methods Legal?

Technically, the methods mentioned above are legal in the majority of countries around the world. However, most areas require that employees give written consent before some of these intrusive tools can be used.

While the U.S. has made most of these efforts legal, the states of Maine and California have established slightly stricter laws. They were created to help protect employee privacy; however, employers are still able to track workers without having to worry about legal repercussions.

There are some surveillance methods, such as CCTV in a bank, that don't require any type of employee consent. This is because in most cases, you reasonably assume that this type of system is being used.

However, the issue regarding consent is still a murky one. In most cases, consent is easy to get and likely to be given if a person is in a state of duress. For example, if they don't consent they are fired.

This makes it a sign or else condition, making the consent given shaky ground to base processing on.

Have Employers Gone too Far?

As mentioned before, there are countless ways to monitor an employee's activities. There's even one company in Wisconsin that has begun microchipping its workers. Even though this is voluntary, this practice has raised eyebrows and create several ethical questions.

While there are benefits, the main question is - what about individual privacy?

Are all these surveillance methods really as effective as businesses think? Is the gain in productivity worth the lost engagement and trust?

For workers, it's still best just to assume that your boss can see everything you are doing while at work. Don't do or say something you wouldn't be comfortable saying or doing in front of your boss.

A Final Word on Workplace Surveillance

Overall, the trend is pretty obvious. Workplace surveillance is becoming more and more pervasive and intrusive. Many companies are scrambling trying to reduce inefficiencies and costs. One area this can be done is by heavily monitoring employees.

Most businesses hold the belief that it's a great way to improve overall productivity and ensure the money they pay their workers isn't wasted. While it's easy to understand these concerns, it's still pretty easy to go overboard.

If too much surveillance is used, it may hurt the overall productivity and morale, along with dubious legal status.

Something that's even more telling about these efforts is that the majority of management personnel is exempt from these surveillance tactics. This begs the question - if you don't want these "productivity" tools used on you, is it right to use them on others?

For most, this answer is pretty clear.

If you want to learn more about workplace surveillance, and how it may affect you keep doing research. We offer other insightful articles, too. Read our blog to learn more.