Has employee oversight gone too far?
- Since the start of the pandemic, monitoring software has tripled to keep tabs on teleworkers
- Nearly 50% of employees would prefer to suffer a pay cut rather than being watched by their employer
- Many workers believe their employers have overstepped ethical limits when it comes to surveillance in remote workspaces.
Companies have always monitored their employees in one way or another, but since the start of the pandemic, sales of monitoring software have tripled. With many Americans now working from home, important privacy questions have emerged: Can employees be monitored in their homes by email or Zoom? Is the recording of their keystrokes fair? What about their webcam?
The short answer is that companies have a lot of leeway to spy on their own employees, even when they are not in the office; you are probably working with a lot less privacy than you think. In fact, you might be shocked to learn what is legal.
Below, we outline the top ways businesses can keep tabs on your day and discuss the legal implications, including how to take action if you believe you’ve been wronged.
How your boss watches you at home
Management believes it needs to keep a close eye on employees, with as many as 78% of executives using monitoring software to collect data on employee performance and activity, according to a recent ExpressVPN survey. Perhaps not surprisingly, employee confidence is also at an all-time low. In addition, 70% of employees do not trust their management.
Being watched by the boss is nothing new. Signs indicating “cameras in place” are ubiquitous in North America, so much so that employees can easily forget that they are being watched. In the office, everyone knows their manager can drop by at any time to see how things are going and to make sure (not so subtly) that you are working.
But in the age of working from home, with many companies considering permanent remote work policies, employers are uncomfortable with the lack of control. In a recent study of 2,000 companies and 2,000 employees, 57% of bosses said they did not trust their employees to work without in-person supervision. So they started looking at the workers (at home) in various mundane to frightening ways.
Keystroke monitoring to track productivity
One of the easiest (and oldest) ways to track employees is to log keystrokes and mouse clicks. It might not be the most accurate method of determining if someone is working, but in the world of technology, data rules. It’s no surprise that huge IT and IT companies were the first to embrace this method of tracking.
“Ten years ago, at one of the biggest tech companies in the world, a colleague of mine could work remotely anywhere in the world,” said Ami Au-Yeung, human resources consultant and business strategist. Workplace. “As a very data-driven company, it was able to keep up with keystrokes. He worked in the IT department, so he knew management would track how many tickets he responded to, how he handled customer inquiries, and all of the other quality metrics associated with his role.
Check in via your laptop
Nearly three in four bosses use what’s recorded from your laptop in data-driven performance reviews, according to a recent study. Staff calls, emails, Slack messages, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, and Zoom meetings can all be recorded and tapped into for details and trends. If there is a way for someone to check you in at work, chances are it is being done.
Some companies have even invested in a video conferencing tool called Sneek to take pictures of their employees every one to five minutes. The software wasn’t actually meant to be used to spy on employees, but that’s what it’s used for now —– to make sure you’re actually working.
Spy on employees with fake Instagram account
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., took the term ‘crawling you on social media’ to a whole new level when he blurted out a company webinar he was spying on employees through a fake account Instagram. Dimon said he was examining employee accounts to see if they were really sick or if they were just hungover from too big a party.
While noteworthy, it is not illegal. Many of us would be appalled to know that our bosses were watching our every waking moment via Instagram, and in this recent survey of 2,000 companies, 83% of employers OK that there were ethical issues with their own behavior. However, most of them (78% to be exact) still have monitoring software in place.
What is legal and what is ethical are two very different things.
Teleworkers should get used to watching their backs outside the office, experts said.
“Typically, employees have low expectations of privacy when they are on company property or using company equipment, including company computers and vehicles,” said Matt C. Pinsker, assistant professor of homeland security and criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University.
To cover all the bases, labor lawyers recommend that companies distribute statements to this effect to all employees. Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, employers can monitor emails sent to work devices, as long as the company manual indicates that email monitoring is in progress.
Big problems arise when employees and employers disagree about what workers can reasonably expect and what companies are allowed to do. Even if your boss tells you that email monitoring is in progress, they may not give you all the details. For example, they might tell you that this happens in a general statement, but you might have no idea that this is used to assess your performance.
“What we are seeing is that a lot of organizations don’t actually tell employees that they are being monitored, and if they are being monitored, they are not telling them when, how or in what context they are being monitored,” David Tomczak, industrial psychology researcher at George Washington University, said in an interview with the American Psychological Association’s podcast “Speaking of Psychology”.
Tomczak said an implicit contract between employees and employers is broken when the volume of electronic performance monitoring increases. “We looked at our research in the literature on psychological contracts, which basically indicates that individuals have this unexpressed expectation of their employer… we basically meant, ‘Okay, this is going to be a violation of the psychological contract. ‘ “
Corporate oversight could jeopardize corporate culture
It’s safe to say that most employees are watched over by their boss, even in the comfort (and supposed privacy) of their own home. Once employees are aware of the constant monitoring, 56% experience stress and anxiety because of it. In addition, 32% of employees take fewer breaks because they worry about what monitoring will mean to their productivity.
Almost half of those polled said they would agree to a pay cut to make it stop.
“When I see the subject of employee monitoring, I think of micromanagement,” said Ami Au-Yeung, human resources consultant and workplace strategist. “It’s the opposite of setting real expectations and trusting your staff. I would ask executives who are considering corporate oversight if this is really the type of culture you want to develop to move forward.
What to do if you are unhappy with the surveillance in your business
If you are a manager, it is worth considering the culture created by these monitoring programs. And while what is happening may be legal, that doesn’t mean it’s ethical.
For employees, browse the company manual to see what is being disclosed by company oversight. And for heaven’s sake, stop using your company’s laptop and email account for all non-work-related communication. While you’re at it, also consider making this Instagram account private.