In today’s digital world, privacy issues are often less straightforward than we would like them to be. There’s a lot of complexity surrounding technology, security and surveillance-related company policies, including policies of employee monitoring.
In the past few decades, digital work has become increasingly interconnected with the general use of the Internet. This has led to all sorts of issues, from concerns about data leaks with ‘bring your own device’ policies, to employees selling personal items on eBay or browsing social media in the workplace on company time.
Employers should consider the reality around employee monitoring: is it reasonable for an employee to have an expectation of privacy? And what rights do companies and employees have when it comes to monitoring daily activities?
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Giving Employees Notification
A big factor in an employee monitoring program is whether or not their employer alerted them to the fact that their digital activities are being observed. Generally speaking, giving formal, written or oral notification helps make these types of surveillance seem more proper and in line with a good corporate culture.
Most employees come into the workplace with at least some expectation of privacy. When they receive notice of and, more importantly, when they know the reasons for employee monitoring, they’re less likely to complain than if they find out they’re being monitored after the fact. This also helps the company reputation, as they won’t be perceived as spying if they’re transparent from the start.
In some cases, it may be enough to have a notification clause in an employee handbook. Employees may or may not read it, but at least it’s there as a resource for them. This Entrepreneur article offers more tips and best practices for legal and ethical surveillance.
What’s Being Monitored?
There’s a big difference between monitoring different types of content. There are few people in any workplace who would complain about their employer monitoring employees for the use of pornography or visiting other similarly NSFW websites. It also seems fair for companies to monitor digital platforms for the leaking of sensitive business data, as well as for unauthorized network activity.
The gray area comes when employers try to sniff out personal behaviors of their employees that are irrelevant to the company. Companies can write policies about not using the Internet for personal reasons or restricting certain websites. But going in and mining employee emails or closely inspecting browser histories can start to raise eyebrows if it’s not directly related to the business at hand.
Rigidly policing employees digitally can also backfire and drive talent away from a company. In addition, this creates a negative corporate culture where employees are distracted by trying to avoid any activity that could be construed as being against corporate policy. This can easily lead to lower employee productivity, creating a lose-lose scenario. This Forbes tale of snooping on employee activity, whistle-blowing and much more goes into some of the social aspects of collecting staff data at a company.
How Monitoring is Done
A good rule of thumb with employee monitoring is for it to be done in a professional, consistent and inconspicuous way.
The ideal case is where employee monitoring goes on completely behind the scenes and applied equally to every single person in the company. Evident and intrusive forms of monitoring that seem personally directed can cause big problems. A boss that looks over an employee’s shoulder on a regular basis appears domineering and suspicious.
If the company is using a monitoring tool, that’s a step in the right direction. However, it’s better if monitoring takes place in such a way that it’s not evident to employees, and the data is professionally handled as it’s collected.
Every employer should have their own policy on employee monitoring, but the above guidelines can help direct monitoring efforts and make them seem more credible and legitimate in a corporate environment.