Employer as Big Brother

To see what their employees are up to, employers use a variety of software tools to ascertain how long employees are spending on the computer doing work, what they’re working on, how often they’re typing and how long it takes them to respond to emails, as well as the searches they conduct and the websites they visit.

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    Employer as Big Brother

    Employer as Big Brother

    Since the work-from-home phenomenon took flight in the wake of the COVID pandemic, employers have increasingly resorted to tracking employees in an effort to monitor their work activity levels. In the pandemic’s early days, 30% of large employers adopted employee-tracking software for the first time—a number that has now grown to about 60%.1

    To see what their employees are up to, employers use a variety of  tracking software tools to ascertain how long employees are spending on the computer doing work, what they’re working on, how often they’re typing and how long it takes them to respond to emails, as well as the searches they conduct and the websites they visit (including job sites!).

    Action and Reaction

    The use of “bossware” to monitor employees has had the predictable consequence of a loss in employee trust and motivation—and, unfortunately so, during a time when “The Great Resignation” should have employers looking to attract and retain valuable employees.

    There are several things employees can do to protect their privacy amid an increasingly intrusive employer:

    1. Conduct all personal activity on personal computers; that includes emails, internet searches, shopping and job hunting.
    2. Do not hold private conversations, either on a personal mobile phone or face-to-face, in the room where the work-provided computer is located—its camera and microphone may record that conversation.
    3. Don’t use the corporate email address for personal correspondence.
    4. Assume everything is being tracked, so act accordingly.

    A word of caution … wiping out files or search history does not hide them from an employer.

    A Failure of Management

    Most managers are unlikely to go to surveillance extremes. Hopefully, most bosses have faith in their employees; this is where the company’s culture, as well the interview and hiring process, play a large role (watch out for these hiring red flags!).  Plus, let’s face it, most managers probably shop online during their lunch hour, just like their staff.

    If managers require hyper-surveillance of employees to ensure their productivity, then management needs to not only examine its hiring process, but also its incentive structure. They also need to reflect on their own management skills—can’t productivity and engagement be better measured by employee output rather than on superficial inputs, such as the time spent on a computer?

    Worse still, Big Brother can backfire. It turns out that a study done by Harvard found that monitored employees were substantially more likely to take unapproved breaks, disregard instructions, damage workplace property, steal office equipment and purposefully work at a slow pace (aka “quiet quitting”). Apparently monitoring employees can make them subconsciously feel less responsible for their own behavior, thus making them more prone to misbehavior.

    Sources:

    1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/08/20/work-from-home-computer-monitoring/

    Please reference disclosures: https://blog.americanportfolios.com/disclosures/

    About The Author

     

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