The Covid pandemic required a record number of people to work from home. This event allegedly triggered many employers to start investigating tools for monitoring employee productivity. Even before this cataclysmic event, many employers were unorthodoxly trying to measure employee performance by monitoring emails, who they met, and for how long, and how they utilised their workplace or meeting time. In fact, in 2019, during Covid, a survey reported that the number of organisations utilising tools to collect data on their employees has risen to 62%. The fear of change and the sudden drop in profits, triggered organisations to enhance employee monitoring efforts.
As any Information Technology professional can tell you, there are a myriad of digital tools for employee monitoring or “corporate surveillance” depending on your attitude towards GDPR practises. Numerous software platforms, tools and services can enable secret monitoring of live video feeds, keyboard tracking, optical character recognition, keystroke recording, and of course – location tracking. However, beyond the plethora of options, monitoring employees comes with a huge risk to companies that practise it. Human psychology states that surveillance of anyone for anything erodes trust. Imagine a husband monitoring his wife 24/7 – and her finding out.
A comprehensive corporate research report found that most employees believe that abusing data directly harms trust – and in fact, statistically speaking – most data is not handled properly. Employees who are recently subjected to new levels of surveillance report being both incredibly stressed and frightened by the continuous monitoring. And as any HR professional will tell you, this is the exact recipe for resentment, dissatisfaction and burnout – which statistically results in colossal decreases in productivity. In fact, monitoring invites a backlash by employees who go above and beyond in manipulating these tools. So to avoid most of the negatives we suggest following a balance approach with these significant and practical best practises:
- Stay transparent about what you’re monitoring and why.
- Decrease monitoring where there is trust (reflect on this).
- Focus on quality and efficiency of work rather than quantity.
- Agree on functional metrics by involving all relevant stakeholders.
- Offer intelligent and meaningful carrots along with very mild sticks.
- Performance monitoring needs to be simple and understandable to all.
- Accept that great workers – like yourself – cannot always perform great.
- Build a resilient company based on a culture of trust and flexibility.
- Implement self-monitoring tools to construct self-reflection.
So, monitoring under the illusion of protecting productivity – stands in plain contrast to the trends in the corporate world. In fact, a Deloitte Global Millennial Survey states that most of the up and coming global workforce will abandon employers that prioritise profits over people. For those that haven’t figured it out yet – employees are a company’s most valuable asset. Companies are simply empty vessels without the people that possess the institutional knowledge to make them functional. For any smart employer, retention is a priority, given the high expense of hiring and onboarding new people. And as seen recently, companies that don’t reflect these values find it extremely difficult and costly to hire capable professionals. Treating people with respect is fundamental for retention and fundamental to any company being able to operate. The truth is that fears of productivity loss turned out to be more imagined than reality-based. US surveys reported that for 94% of workers productivity either stayed the same levels – or even improved during Covid.