Watching the workers

Monitoring employee activity may sound like a good idea, especially with so many staff working from home. But if the process is not properly thought through it can have significant negative effects on the business.

Employee surveillance is a contentious subject. Many experts believe that by setting up monitoring systems, business owners and managers are effectively admitting that they are unable to motivate and lead their staff – their view is that employees should be given targets and allowed to get on with their job, with bosses only getting involved if their staff are not meeting expectations.

There is also an argument that it is unfair to track worker activity when they are working from home (perhaps for the first time) as they are more likely to be disturbed or distracted than if they were in their normal workplace.

Checks and balances

One of the obvious downsides of tracking activity by time only is that the person under surveillance may well log in at the right time, make sure they don’t log off before their working hours are up and do the bare minimum in between.

This is not the only way in which productivity can suffer. We have all heard the expression ‘work expands to fill the time available’ and if employees resent being watched by their employer they will have no motivation to work harder or find better ways to do their job.

Monitoring technology has become increasingly sophisticated, but if the boss doesn’t know the level of output to expect from a staff member it will have limited impact.

No time for secrecy

If you decide to implement employee monitoring software you should start by telling your employees why you are doing it and how it works. There is bound to be some concern so let your staff ask questions and take their concerns seriously.

There are many different types of system available, but the better ones can distinguish between productive and unproductive websites as well as track how long the user was active based on keyboard and mouse activity. Other options include disabling monitoring when the user logs onto sites that require the disclosure of sensitive personal or financial information.

If you don’t have an internet usage policy in place it might be a good time to create one and ensure that all employees are aware of it.

Time for everything

Employee surveillance can be effective, especially for people who work irregular hours or want the flexibility of working when it suits them – such as those with young children or other caring responsibilities. It can also reduce the need for workers to ‘check-in’ and reduce stress for those who find it hard to cope with a 9-to-5 routine.

In cases where an employee feels they have been wrongly accused of a misdemeanour, a recording of their activity might help them prove their innocence or at the very least prevent their employer from jumping to conclusions until the issue has been investigated.