Management

Do You Spy on Your Employees?

spying-on-employeeDo you spy on your employees? Software that allows employers to monitor employee computer and browser activity has been around for awhile, and company email tracking should be expected by all employees in the digital age. But a new breed of solutions has taken employee tracking to a new level - one that might be considered spying. Moreover, some employers have gone to extremes to track employee behavior, even off the clock, such as the recent IKEA case in which company officials allegedly paid for illegal access to secret police files.

The IKEA case means employer spying has turned the corner from being something employees alone should be concerned with to a matter of private invasion: employers, too, must worry that their tracking activities are illegal or unethical. It begs the question: do you spy on your employees? Should you?

Is it spying or tracking?

Tracking employee behavior can certainly lend itself to workplace productivity. When you can ascertain whether employees are wasting time or spending their working hours doing what they’re being paid to do, you can be certain your employees are working toward your goals. But making sure employees stay on task is just the tip of the iceberg.

This Inc. article discusses how Sociometric Solutions has successfully deployed tracking trips in employee ID badges that actively monitor how employees interact with one another. They discovered that employees who ran into each other on breaks felt better, socially-speaking, and when they returned to work they were 25 percent more productive. The client in question subsequently scheduled regular breaks that promoted interactivity in a bid to increase company-wide productivity.

Employers should walk a well-defined line when it comes to tracking employee behavior. Being transparent lets employees know what’s being tracked and why. Anonymous tracking helps reduce fears employees will lose their jobs. Secret tracking will invariably get out, causing paranoia, mistrust and unhappiness in the workforce - none of which will increase productivity.

There’s a fine line between tracking and spying, and you must be careful to stay on the right side of that line to avoid violating employee trust - and, potentially, the law.

What about personal lives?

Many employers screen potential employees for criminal behavior before they hire, but legal behavior has come under more scrutiny in recent years. Social media accounts, in particular, are often monitored and employees have been axed for Facebook photos and posts they’ve published outside of working hours - even if they’re not the ones doing the posting.

I, for one, am absolutely against the monitoring of any non-criminal activities employees take outside of work. Though I understand companies need to protect themselves from being associated with employees who behave in certain ways, I also believe the rights of individualism are far more important.

You pay your employees for what they do while at work. If you want to dictate their behavior outside of work, you should likewise compensate them for it. Otherwise, you have no right to try to control it.

The bottom line

The ability to measure employee performance, interactions, and productivity are critical to streamlining your company and making decisions that contribute to a healthy employee culture. However, the abuse of employee tracking constitutes spying, an unethical and perhaps even illegal tactic that will never contribute to a healthy work environment.

My suggestion? If you want to incorporate any tracking, recruit a team of employees to help you decide what needs tracked, why it needs tracked, and field any employee concerns before implementing your system. Doing so will help you get most people on board with your tracking program as they see how it contributes to the greater good and will eliminate - or at least vastly reduce - employee paranoia. And when your staff achieves goals through the analysis of your tracking program, reward them.

Do you have any questions? Please ask.