Workplace Surveillance – Are You Being Watched at Work?

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Do you feel like you are being watched at work? The rise of workplace surveillance technology has raised new concerns on how invasive these methods have become.

We take a closer look.

Compared to more traditional workplaces nearly a decade ago, there’s no denying that the modern workplace has been subject to several changes, including the addition of new workplace surveillance technology.

For many of us however, it started with the working styles we have now adopted.

The Evolution of the Workplace

Whilst businesses and workers have been all too happy to have been consigned to a desk as a permanent working space in the past, we now find ourselves presented with a plethora of options.

These include more flexible working schedules, ‘hotdesking’, coworking and even remote working dependent on the type of industry you are in.

Advancements in workplace technology have also had an effect, with businesses implementing automation and tools such as voice assistants and the use of AI in order to try and improve the overall efficiency of the typical workday.

But with these new working styles and this new exciting technology, comes the issue of trust.

Can employees in their mind, trust technology over human behavior?

Can they trust that employees are being as productive as they potentially could be?

Well, employers are now attempting to address this with the introduction of surveillance in the workplace.

But is this collection of data and analytical statistics leading to workers feeling ‘dehumanised’ and worried that they may always be being watched at work?

And what, if any, are the benefits of workplace surveillance?

Why Workplace Surveillance is ‘Dehumanising’

There are many that believe that workplace surveillance is instantaneously a way to make workers feel uneasy and ‘dehumanised’ as they set about their daily workload.

One example given of this is Courtney Hagen Ford, who is featured in the recent BBC article – How does it feel to be watched at work all the time?

In the opening paragraph of the article, Hagen Ford explains that she left her job as a bank teller because she felt the amount of surveillance that was focused on her was ‘dehumanising’.

And the way in which she describes how workplace surveillance was conducted on her, would leave anyone understandable concerned and under the impression they were constantly being watched at work.

Hagen Ford states that her employer was logging her keystrokes and was using software to monitor exactly how many of the customers she was assisting went on to take out loans with the bank and other fee-paying accounts.

Ford described her overall feelings on this workplace surveillance as being “relentless” and that “the totality was horrible”.

Similar to Hagen Ford’s feelings on the subject of workplace surveillance, there is a much more general concern at play when it comes to the end results it will have on a workforce.

Perceptions and Consequences Created by Using Workplace Surveillance

An article created by Chron titled Consequences of Workplace Surveillance lists several perceptions that could develop as a result of introducing workplace monitoring.

Two that could prove to be the most alarming to employers and businesses are that it can be seen to promote a sense of mistrust and raise grievances.

Employees could see an increased usage of surveillance in the workplace as a sign that management in the company don’t trust them enough to carry out their set workload on a daily basis.

In turn, this could lead to infringing upon an employee’s loyalty towards their place of work, create friction and tension between management and workers and have a direct impact on overall employee happiness and satisfaction.

The encroachment on personal privacy that workplace surveillance can create could also lead to a rise in employee complaints and grievances.

This could even escalate as far as claims of discrimination and potential cases for lawsuits should workers feel so strongly about the monitoring of their movements during working hours.

All the above presents a strong case against using surveillance technology in the workplace.

But at the same time, is workplace surveillance needed in order to keep productivity levels high and efficiency at a constant?

How Workplace Surveillance Could Be a ‘Necessary Evil’

Giving his opinion on the topic of employee monitoring, Abhijit Bhaduri, whose thoughts are further detailed in the article Employee Monitoring – Boost to productivity or Threat to privacy, comments:

“In an organization, we have to get people of varying levels and talent to produce output that is consistent in quality.

The top 20% performers contribute 80% of the results of an organization.

The next 30% contributes 10% to the total results, leaving the last 50% to contribute only 10%.

Peak performance is a measure of ability while average performance is the result of motivation.

Organizations have to constantly aim to push average performance towards peak performance.”

Bhaduri then goes on to explain his understanding that people dislike having to be monitored, but believes that for performance to stay at a constant and productivity at its peak, workplace surveillance needs to be put into use.

“People resent being monitored.

Whether it is a supervisor who nudges the employee taking a longer than permitted lunch break or an algorithm that identifies someone taking too many days off, the process is the same.  

Robots can work seven days a week (other than down time for maintenance) and do not throw tantrums.  But their field of expertise is limited.Human beings have broader skill sets. But they vary in their talent.

Monitoring can be done by tech or by another human.

Whether one is supervising humans or machines, they need to be monitored to boost productivity.

There is no choice.”

How do you feel about the rising use of workplace surveillance?

Do you believe it is required in the modern workplace or do you think it poses a threat to personal privacy?

Why not let us know your thoughts over on our Twitter account – we’d love to hear from you.

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Sam Rose