What You Should Know About Electronic Monitoring of Employees

Pros and Cons of Electronic Employee Monitoring at Work

Businessman examining security camera in office

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Employers have generally always found methods to monitor their employees. As software and tech advancements continue at break-neck speeds, employee monitoring is changing.

Software and tech platforms are being used to gather information on employees. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) technologies used in these platforms are able to measure and analyze workforce performance. The use of data related to employees is referred to as Human Resource Analytics (HRA), or people analytics.

Janet Marler and John Boudreau described HRA as "a HR practice enabled by information technology that uses descriptive, visual, and statistical analyses of data related to HR processes, human capital, organizational performance, and external economic benchmarks to establish business impact and enable data-driven decision-making."

Benefits of Monitoring

Monitoring and data mining on employees is a controversial use of AI/ML. Employers wishing to use this technology should ensure their employees are fully informed of the reasons they are collecting data, and make sure they agree to it.

There are many reasons to monitor employee behavior at work. For smaller businesses, the main reason for employee monitoring is to make sure that there is no unethical or illegal activity in the workplace while ensuring that technology provided is being used for the purpose it was intended.

Practicing ethical employee monitoring reduces many unethical and illegal behaviors that cause small businesses to lose money. Monitoring encourages employees that would otherwise act immorally to act in an expected manner.

Medium-sized and larger businesses have the means to monitor in other ways. As the HR uses for AI/ML evolve, businesses are finding they can use analytics to identify and develop ways to improve processes and employee performance.

HR analysis platforms can take advantage of data stored outside of the company network for a much larger sample of behaviors or outcomes. As an employee reacts to situations over time in different ways, an HRA platform can identify trends in employee behavior and begin to offer alternative solutions based on actions other people have taken.

Monitoring Disadvantages

Sometimes, there is more than enough stress at work. Employees may have to meet tight deadlines, deal with coworkers, and change work habit or style due to leadership changes. The constant monitoring of employee activities creates even more stress.

If surveillance is felt to be a form of spying by employees, they will develop a feeling of mistrust from their employer. This feeling of being constantly watched will more than likely create an uncomfortable work environment.

The effect achieved will be the opposite effect desired, decreasing performance and encouraging employees to develop workarounds for the monitoring. Employee turnover will probably increase as well.

Surveillance technology can be expensive. Storage methods and the equipment necessary are costly, and smaller businesses may not be able to afford it.

Initiating Employee Monitoring

If you are considering using technology to monitor your employees, there are some actions you can take whether you are using the monitoring as a deterrent or for developing performance metrics:

  • Train your employees early so that they are familiar with your company's expectations and the use of monitoring or performance data collection
  • Ask your employees if they mind, and have them sign an agreement stating their acceptance and agreement
  • If you are gathering employee performance data, let your employees know and see how you are using the data. They should be receiving feedback that includes improvement recommendations from their data. If they don't, they will become suspicious
  • Evaluate your use of employee performance data or monitoring regularly.
  • Ensure you are ethical in your use of these data. As you evaluate your monitoring and collection, determine whether it is worth continuing the practice.

If you have good reasons for monitoring employees, and good intentions for collecting their performance data they will generally be accepting of it. People perform better while being monitoring if they know of it, understand the need behind it and can benefit from it.