Employee monitoring software has become commonplace. Many apps take monitor screenshots, capture keystrokes and mouse movements, monitor active applications and visited sites and, in extreme cases, can even take pictures using webcam (see How to detect Employee Monitoring). It seems to be fair to track what your employees do when they are being paid for their time. After all, if they exchange their time for money, it seems fair for the employer to know what they are paying for. So, why does it still feel morally inappropriate in some cases? The question is far from being just theoretical. If a wrong decision is made, a company may suffer from lawsuits, experience a backlash and overall productivity drop (opposite from what was intended) from their employees or suffer damage to the company’s image. Let’s review in more detail what employee monitoring practices can be considered valid and what should be avoided.
Silent vs Transparent employee monitoring
Silent employee monitoring is when information from employee’s computer is shared with company management without the user knowing it’s being shared. Transparent employee monitoring is when an employee has access to all his monitoring data.
Silent monitoring without consent
Silent monitoring without consent is a simple case in which it is easy to distinguish between right and wrong. It happens when employee monitoring software is being used without a clear consent from the employee. If an employee is being quietly monitored and this fact is not stated in his contract with the employer, he has a full legal and moral right to sue his employer. But, even if mentioning it in the contract may make silent monitoring legal, does it make it morally right, if it was not brought to the employee’s attention and he is not aware that he is being monitored? The majority of employees would see it as wrong and rightfully classify it as spying. And, if you are a manager responsible for company policies in that respect, it would be prudent at least to make sure that every employee knows if he is being monitored and what the monitoring includes.
Silent monitoring with consent
Let’s assume you were smart enough to get the employee’s signature acknowledging the usage of silent monitoring software and employees are aware of it. Chances are your employees will still hate the fact they are being monitored and still see your company as doing evil. Why? Because they have no control over the process, they don’t know what the managers see and how that would cause them to be rated. They understandably label such monitoring as spying. This uncertainty brings dissatisfaction and alienates the employee from the company. If the goal of monitoring software was a productivity increase, implementing it as a silent monitoring would often bring the opposite result and would not be advised.
In order for monitoring to be accepted by employees, screenshot monitoring software should have an absolutely transparent way to see what information is being collected. An employee should be able to see everything that his manager could potentially see. A good example of a simple software of this kind is ScreenshotMonitor. An employee has to press the “Start” button to start tracking time, and when he presses “Stop” or “Pause,” monitoring ceases. During monitoring, the application takes periodic screenshots at random intervals. When a screenshot is made, the app makes a click sound, so the employee knows when it was taken. At any point the employee can go to ScreenshotMonitor.com to review all of the screenshots that were taken – this is exactly what a manager will be looking at as well. And an employee can always delete his screenshots. A manager, however, would see the indication that a screenshot was deleted.
Such transparency leaves no space for uncertainty and doubt on the employee’s side. The software implementing transparent monitoring is generally well accepted and considered fair by employees.
The days when a big corporation could spy on their employees without their consent is over. Certainly, companies have the legal right to monitor their employees, but in order to win their support, smart companies give their employees control over the monitoring process. Only then would they see happy employees and increased productivity.