Updated March 30, 2022
Imagine the case of a young worker at a medium-sized company: Laura started her sales job shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic closed her office and employees started working remotely.
Laura hits some, but not all, of her goals. She is usually alert and attentive during Zoom meetings, but her colleagues sometimes can’t reach her over Slack or email for stretches in the workday.
Should her employer start tracking her computer activity?
Many companies may be asking this question about staff monitoring as they work to keep their companies operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Businesses must carefully consider the pros and cons of employee monitoring software. In particular, companies must remember that employees are usually unaccustomed to being monitored and may react negatively if they don’t understand how being monitored will help their company.
Conversely, businesses should remember that staff monitoring can give employees the opportunity to demonstrate their hard work and productivity and that younger workers are far less likely to be concerned about employers having access to their personal information.
By weighing the advantages and disadvantages of employee monitoring software, companies can track worker productivity based on what is best for their business.
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Pros and Cons of Employee Monitoring
- CON: 49% of employees say their company does not use employee monitoring software to track their work. Businesses seeking to introduce employee monitoring programs must contend with employees who are unfamiliar with having their work tracked by software.
- CON: Only 10% of employees say they would trust their employer more if their work was tracked by employee monitoring software. Companies must consider the effects employee monitoring has on worker morale.
- PRO: 72% of workers say their productivity would not be affected if their company used employee monitoring software. Businesses can frame employee monitoring as an opportunity for employees to demonstrate their good work.
- PRO: Only 22% of 18 to 34 year-old employees are concerned about their employers having access to personal information and activity from their work computer. Companies should prepare for their workers to become increasingly savvy about using work devices appropriately as younger people make up more of the workforce.
1. Con: Workers Often Are Unfamiliar With Employee Monitoring Software
A drawback of employee monitoring software is that most workers are not used to having their workday so closely monitored.
New concepts, regulations and software can be challenging to introduce to employees.
In 2020, roughly half of employees (49%) said their company does not use employee monitoring software to track their work.
3 in 10 workers (30%) were unsure if their company uses employee monitoring software; only 21% said their company does use such software.
HR experts say that companies are unlikely to use employee tracking software if they believe that employees can perform without it.
“My entire team is remote, and I do not use employee monitoring software to track their work,” said Grey Idol, co-founder of PayrollFunding, a payroll staffing company. “I honestly don’t mind how many cat videos they watch during the day as long as they can deliver when it counts. I hire adults, not children, and I trust them to manage their time properly.”
"I hire adults, not children, and I trust them to manage their time properly."
Idol’s attitude likely is shared by many managers: Give employees the time, space, and resources to get the job done, and many will execute.
Still, an increase in the number of employees working remotely as a result of hybrid working may incentivize businesses to keep close tabs on their employees’ progress.
Black Joseph, webmaster at FireStickHacks, which posts reviews and ratings about Amazon’s Firestick TV remote, said that instead of staff monitoring software, he uses 5 strategies to track employees’ work:
- Watch employees work: Watch or shadow while an employee does her job. Sit in on sales calls, meetings, or research sessions if you have concerns about the worker’s productivity.
- Ask for an account: Ask employees what they have been working on that morning, day, or week. Workers should always be able to explain how they have been spending their time.
- Help employees use self-monitoring tools: Request that employees use checklists, productivity tools such as Asana, and time management reflection exercises. This way, employees will learn to track and manage their own time.
- Review employees’ work: If an employee manages a database, spot check a few of their records. If an employee writes, review their drafts. Whatever employees do, make sure to periodically review a random sample of their work.
- Ask around: Ask co-workers questions about an employees’ work. Are they easy to work with on group assignments? Do they complete work when they say they will? Feedback from colleagues is a valuable way to understand an employee’s work habits.
Employee tracking software may be unfamiliar to employees, but being held accountable for their work probably isn’t.
By using more subtle tracking strategies, businesses can accomplish the goals of employee monitoring software without making their workers uncomfortable.
2. Con: Employee Monitoring Can Have Negative Effects on Employee Morale
Employee monitoring can negatively affect employee morale, so companies must provide workers strong reasoning for using tracking software.
Companies have good reason to dread unmotivated, disengaged, unhappy employees. An unhappy worker is less likely to be participate in company social events and more likely to leave the business before developing professionally.
Only 10% of employees said that they would have more trust in their company if monitoring software was used to track their work in 2020.
Experts say that introducing employee tracking software can erode employees’ trust in their company.
Dave Morley is the general manager of Rockstar Recruiting, a recruiting firm specializing in placing skilled tradespeople such as millwrights, mechanics, and HVAC technicians.
He previously worked in human relations at a different company. That business introduced employee monitoring software without telling employees. When employees found out, company morale dropped significantly.
“[Employee monitoring] would have been much better received had management informed employees that their work was going to be monitored and given them reasons why,” Morley said.
Instead, employees became skeptical, and Morley started hearing workers make the same joke: ‘“Big Brother’ was watching over our work.”
‘“Big Brother’ was watching over our work.”
Eventually, a number of employees, including Morley, lost trust in their company’s ownership and left the business.
Glen Wilde, chief executive and founder of Diet to Success, a nutrition and life coach agency, says that employees are productive if they feel:
- Trusted to complete their work
- Autonomous and self-sufficient in their workflow
- Secure in their status and role and unafraid of losing their job over a minor mistake
Employee monitoring software challenges each of these worker needs because it signals to employees that their company does not trust them to spend their time wisely. Wilde says businesses must also be clear with employees that monitoring software is not a way to collect passwords or learn about a worker’s personal life.
Businesses must consider the risk of damaging employee trust and morale when using employee monitoring software. And if companies do monitor their employees, they should not do it secretly.
3. Pro: Employees Don’t Think Monitoring Has Negative Effect on Performance
Fortunately, employees generally do not believe that employee monitoring has a negative effect on their performance.
Close to three-quarters of employees (72%) said that employee monitoring software would have no effect on their productivity in 2020.
Meanwhile, only 15% of employees said they would be less productive if their work was tracked through monitoring software.
In fact, staff monitoring can provide employees the opportunity to demonstrate their productivity and ability to function independently.
Sam Maley, IT operations manager at Bailey & Associates, an IT consultancy, says that managers usually do not have the time to closely track all employees. For young, inexperienced workers, direct monitoring software may make sense.
Monitoring software such as Activtrak provides managers periodic screenshots of their employees’ computer activity.
These screenshots are a simple way to determine how long employees are staying on specific internet pages.
Productivity reports are a more statistically-driven way to measure employee activity.
Managers receive reports on keystrokes, page views, and general data insights about work behavior.
Mostly, productivity reports give managers the ability to break down an employee’s workday: How do they spend their mornings? What is taking too long? Are there strange or inappropriately long gaps between actual work activities?
Maley says that once managers can answer these questions about their direct reports, they do not need to rely on monitoring software. Instead, employees can learn to self-sufficiently track their time and tasks using a project management tool such as Jira.
Overall, Maley suggests that companies use employee monitoring to make sure new workers adjust well to their workload. Workers, meanwhile, can view being monitored as an opportunity to demonstrate their competence and earn greater autonomy.
4. Pro: Younger Employees Less Concerned About Employer Seeing What Websites They Visit on Work Computer
Generational gaps explain a number of differences in workplace preferences, including communication, technology and talking openly about how much different employees are paid.
Another stark generational gap is evident when employees are asked if they are concerned by their employer having access to personal information and activity from their work computer.
In 2020, less than one-quarter of employees ages 18 to 34 (22%) said they were concerned by their employer having access to personal activity on their work computer.
Meanwhile, 31% of employees between 35 and 54 years old were concerned by their employer having access to their personal information, and 25% of employees 55 years old and up shared that sentiment.
Experts say that the differences in attitudes between younger and older employees are the result of having different relationships with technology.
Steve Gauche, director and digital strategist at ITrunway, a virtual consulting and marketing agency, explains 3 primary reasons why younger and older workers have different attitudes:
- IT knowledge: Younger workers are usually more comfortable with technology, use it more, and know-how to remove or delete sensitive information.
- Privacy attitudes: Younger people were raised in a time with lower expectations to personal privacy, especially on the internet. Older workers may still expect a strong divide between their personal and professional lives.
- Other devices: Younger workers are more likely to have other smart devices. With phones, additional computers, and other browsing devices, younger workers may be more likely to keep private activities to those devices and not their work computer.
General technology knowledge, attitudes about privacy, and accessibility to other devices are all important factors that make young workers more comfortable with their employer accessing personal information.
Consider the Advantages and Disadvantages of Employee Tracking
Companies must carefully consider the pros and cons of using employee monitoring software.
Employee tracking can be a useful tool to hold workers accountable and motivate them to produce, but it may also make employees suspicious and uncomfortable at work.
Businesses should remember the pros and cons of employee monitoring software:
- CON: Employees are often unfamiliar with monitoring software.
- CON: Worker monitoring sometimes has negative effects on employee morale.
- PRO: Employees do not believe that being tracked by monitoring software negatively affects their performance.
- PRO: Younger employees are less concerned about their employer having access to personal information and activity on their work computer.
By weighing these pros and cons, companies can determine if employee monitoring software is right for their business.
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