Surveillance at work is a very delicate topic because companies like to control and protect their assets and how employees use technology at work. On the other side, employees would like to have more privacy and be trusted by management to do their job without multiple eyes looking over their shoulders or snooping in their computers. I would like to discuss both perspectives for monitoring employees at work.
From the company’s perspective, monitoring and employee’s work on a computer is desirable because they are responsible for the actions of the employees and they need to maximize the performance of the staff.
The American law called the “doctrine of respondeat superior” states that an employer is responsible for the wrongful behavior of its employees during work (Muller, 2013). Therefore, a company might feel obligated to monitor the work on a computer in order to avoid illegal activities that the company could be responsible for. For example, an employee can use the computer to download pirated files like software and movies or sexually harass someone on the internet or inside the company itself.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act forbids the interception of emails that are unapproved without a warrant (Muller, 2013). Nevertheless, the employer can get away with this by having a consent statement that employees can sign (Muller, 2013) and the law has some exceptions like “The provider of the communication service can monitor communications”, and “The monitoring is done in the ordinary course of business” (Muller, 2013). Thus, you should not expect privacy in the workforce since the companies are allowed to monitor anything that is done using company computers (Brown, Dehayes, Hoffer, Martin, & Perkins, 2012).
Finally, the goal of any business is to make money. Thus, employees slaking at work could be problematic for the company because they will be wasting money. Around $63 billion is lost annually in the United States in productivity because of the misuse of the internet (Patrick, 2018). Also, it is estimated that 70% of porn traffic happens between office hours which implies that employees are accessing porn sites at work (Patrick, 2018). Consequently, some business needs to monitor the performance of the employees to guarantee that they are doing their job.
In conclusion, employers might feel obligated to monitor the computer usage of their workers because it avoids them future lawsuits and it is affecting their bottom line if the employees are not doing their job during office hours.
From the employee’s perspective, that is an invasion of privacy and encourages distrust between the company and its employees. This relates to the “principal-agent” relationship. This relationship explains that if a manager can track and control the employee’s behavior, the employee acts in the interests of the manager (Stanton & Stam, 2006). However, the employer must trust the employee for this relationship to work (Stanton & Stam, 2006). This could be considered as a phycological agreement between employer and employee that if it is broken, the employee will lose trust and confidence in the firm (Stanton & Stam, 2006). So, if the employer doesn’t show trust to its employees, the employees won’t trust the employer.
Another issue that comes from surveillance is the stress and anxiety of being monitored by the employer (Weiss, 2014). Also, an employee might like to know what type of information is gathered, for how long, and what devices. At least, companies cannot track employees on personal devices without previous authorization. In this case, the court determines who is the owner of the computer/equipment and if the employer is notified that the computer will be observed (Muller, 2013).
For a lot of cases, I believe that it is no necessary to monitor if you take the proper measurements. Most of the monitoring can be avoided by just blocking the sites that employees must not visit at work. For example, the organization does not want the employees to use social media, it is easy to block those sites internally without having to monitor exactly what they are doing. I understand that those resources belong to the company. However, when you hire professionals to do a job, you should treat them as professionals and trust them to do the job.
I remember when I moved to Louisiana in 2009, I got a freelance job working from home. However, the company wanted to install monitoring software on my computer to know if I was working on the project and what times. I kindly said no and just decided not to work with the person for the following reasons:
- First, the computer and the software used for software development were mines.
- I don’t want somebody picking on what I am doing even during non-working hours.
- Sometimes, my kids use the computer under my supervision. I won’t allow anybody to be able to have contact with my children and see what they are doing.
- Applications always have bugs and I would not like to install software that exposes my computer to the world and affect my privacy.
As I previously said, you hire professionals, treat them as professionals. Usually, it is sufficient for an employer just keeping track of the hours worked and the status of the project. It is not necessary to micromanage or see what employees are exactly doing at what time. The point of hiring is getting the right people for the job instead of people to spy on.
Muller, M. (2013). The manager’s guide to Hr: hiring, firing, performance evaluations, documentation, benefits, and everything else you need to know. New York: American Management Association.
Patrick, E. (2018, April 10). Employee Internet Management: Now an HR Issue. Retrieved October 21, 2019, from https://shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/Pages/cms_006514.aspx.
Brown, C. V., Dehayes, D. W., Hoffer, J. A., Martin, E. W., & Perkins, W. C. (2012). Managing information technology (7th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Stanton, J. M., & Stam, K. R. (2006). The visible employee: using workplace monitoring and surveillance to protect information assets – without compromising employee privacy or trust. Medford, NJ: Information Today.
Weiss, J. W. (2014). Business ethics: a stakeholder and issues management approach. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.