April 15, 2013 by Ozgur Ozden
Different Approach to Electronic Monitoring
Current advancements in technology, and being able to track and monitor data led to another kind of monitoring called employee surveillance. Employers decided to monitor their employees to increase their workforce so in the recent years employee surveillance is increasing. We have two sides of this story, employers are trying to increase their productivity and on the other hand employees see this as a violation of their privacy therefore we would like to explore the current situation from employers point of view as well as employees point of view.
From the Employers point of view:
According to a research done by companies Dataquest and IDC “approximately 22.8 million U.S. employees (40 percent of the internet-enabled workforce) waste one or more hours on the internet each day”, this is approximately equals to $63 billion a year. This is a big amount of money, so employers are trying to make sure that employees are actually on task and doing what they are paid to do. Many employers are monitoring and storing E-Mails, recording textbox entries, recording how fast and how relevant keystrokes are, track phone calls, web sites visited, login and logoff times and even taking snapshots of the employees screen on certain times.
Some employers are using RFID cards or cell phones signals to track their employees during the lunch, coffee breaks, or employees working outside the office boundaries as a result of their job description.
Employers also want to protect their intellectual data. Sharing crucial financial info, latest research done, inside information, legal documents might worth millions of dollars and employers would like to monitor these activities.
Another point employers raise is that equipment, machinery, software and access to network is provided by the employers so they have right to monitor the proper use of these equipment’s in order to protect the company.
Also employers mention about protecting third parties such as consumers, stakeholders, suppliers, distributors, creditors, etc… Companies are responsible for all of the mentioned parties here.
From the Employees point of view:
Employees on the other hand take electronic monitoring as an invasion of their privacy more in depth violation of their constitutional right. Electronically monitored employee’s claim that they are working under stress. They also believe that electronic surveillance seriously reduce the morale of the employees and harm the relationship of trust built between the employers and employees. Miller (2000) describes this as:
“There are other important things in life besides efficiency and profitability. In particular, there is the right to privacy. The existence of the right to privacy, and related rights such as confidentiality and autonomy, is sufficient to undermine extreme views such as the view that
employees ought to be under surveillance every minute of the day.”
On the other hand, handful of employees like the idea of being monitored, they would like to be differentiated because of the work they have produced and they would like to see this difference on the paycheck.
When we take a look at the resource management theories, we come across with two famous theories produced by Frederick Taylor and Douglas McGregor.
Electronic Performance Monitoring in the context of Taylor’s Theory:
Frederick Taylor who can be considered as the father of “scientific management” developed a workflow system around 1920’s to increase workers performance. He described specific tasks to be completed in given time period and assigned these tasks to workers. These specific tasks can be followed by the employer and productivity can be measured. He has criticized by converting workers into machines without considering their emotional and physical status. This discussion still continues today on different levels with different arguments.
Electronic Performance Monitoring in the context of McGregor’s Theory:
Douglas McGregor mentioned about Theory X and Theory Y at 1960 in a book entitled “The Human Side of Enterprise” to manage resources of organizations. These theories can be summarized as:
Theory X: In this theory, McGregor assumes that the workers of a specific company are lazy and avoid work. Workers do not want to take any more responsibilities. In order to complete the tasks required by the company in this setting, managers have to closely monitor the workers. The work produced by the workers in given time should be monitored and the manager is mainly responsible for monitoring the workers. Management of such companies relies on thread and force and this increase the mistrust among the employees and employers.
Today this Theory X can be characterized as employer’s point of view.
Theory Y: In this theory, workers are assumed to have self-motivation and self-discipline at work. They see work as a natural part of their lives and try to be successful as much as possible. They take responsibilities and actions. In this settings the role of a manager is different than theory X. Here manager is more like a leader, coordinator or a person establishes trust between the employees and the employers. This working environment is more trusted than the first one.
This might be the environment where employees and employers together decide on the rules and details of the electronic monitoring and establish a common will.
Ethical Issues in Electronic Monitoring:
Everyone has different values and beliefs so it is difficult to determine what is ethical or not. We can explore this issue from different perspectives such as:
Electronic monitoring may take away the privacy of the employees but it is crucial for an organization to somehow monitor its employees. Level of surveillance is very important. Employees must know that they are being monitored. Employee’s privacy and right must be respected to have a trustworthy relationship to the benefit of the company, the employees and the third parties.
Electronic monitoring seems in favor of employees if we consider privacy issue.
Electronic Monitoring may secure access to company’s intellectual properties. It is companies right to protect its sources and monitor them properly. Distributing and sharing these documents violates many company policies and it should be monitored. In addition to this malpractice by the equipment provided by employer is another ethical point in favor of the employer.
Companies are profit based organizations and it should be their best interest to measure productivity. But this is a very delicate line because productivity is also depend on the employee’s morale and performance. Productivity must be measured but in the same time morale and trust environment must be kept high. We will have a suggestion about this in the recommendation part.
Stakeholders and third parties in the Electronic Monitoring System:
Electronic monitoring will not affect the shareholders or the third parties directly in a short period of time. Incorrectly implemented system will eventually affect the employee’s performance and this performance will have an effect on the company’s reputation and the stakeholders.
We have tried to unveil the electronic monitoring from two different view as employees and employers. Both sides have points.
Employees are concerned about the protection of their privacy. They also believe that monitoring has negative effect on the morale and performance. Some employees accept the certain level of monitoring
Employers are concerned about the productivity and proper use of companies’ resources. Protection of the documents of the company, company secrets, and the name itself must be protected and monitored.
When implementing an electronic monitoring system concerns of the both side must be taken into account.
As we have indicated in the conclusion part, a common ground must be established between the employer and the employees. We would like to suggest the following items for a smoother implementation.
Employer should explain the necessity of an electronic monitoring system to its employers as detailed as possible. Various meetings will be more suitable instead of written communication.
Once the employees convinced by the managers that monitoring is absolutely necessary, a task force should be established among the employees only. This task force should decide the level of monitoring in the company by consulting the other members in the company. They will have right to choose their way of monitor ship. This will increase the level of trust and ownership to the company among the employers.
A common monitoring method can be implemented with discussions between the task force and the employer.
Monitoring criteria decided between two parties must agree with the following points.
Time İntervals: Monitoring should be done in reasonable time intervals. Continuous monitoring is simply consumption of resources.
Feedback: Employees should be given access to their monitoring records. This will give them a direct and fair feedback about the work they produce.
Measurable Task: Task assigned should be measurable in order to see the progress. (David, 2011)
Appraisal System: Result should be measured and be a part of the employee appraisal system. This will secure the position of the hard working employee’s position in the company and naturally adjust the justice.
Mutual Goals: System and the company will be successful only if the employer and the employees agree on a mutual goal. In this case this will be the company’s success.
Reasonable Work: Work needs to be monitored must be reasonable not exaggerated. (David, 2011)
Relevant Task: Only the relevant task should be included in the monitoring system. (David, 2011)
1. Michael Bassick, T.M.D.S., n.d. Employee Surveillance: An Ethical Consideration [online] Available from: http://www.ethicapublishing.com/ethical/3CH6.pdf [Accessed: 16 March 2013]
2. S. Miller, ” Privacy, the Workplace and the Internet ,” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 28, pp. 255-265, 2000. [Online] Available at: http://mydba.lagrana.net/articles/02/ART02.pdf [Accessed at: 17 March 2013]
3. Wakefield, 2004. Employee Monitoring and Surveillance. The Growing Trend. Information Systems Control Journal
4. David R. Lease, Jean Gordon, Balancing Productivity and Privacy: Electronic Monitoring of Employees, (2011) [Online] Available: http://www.drdavidlease.com/uploads/Balancing_Productivity_and_Privacy_David_Lease.pdf [Accessed at: 17 March 2013]