It’s Not Just Big Brother Watching You

It’s not Big Brother, the federal government, watching you. How many of you have been watched at work through cameras, scanners, or other devices or programs? This is something increasing at the workplace and it creates an environment that definitely conveys a lack of trust.

Not only are there some illegal precautions, monitoring employees counters what it’s actually trying to watch – productivity. It says some employers are terribly concerned they are not getting as much from their employees as they should be and these employees are taking substantial time and resources away from the organization. There must be those out there who are like the nuns in Catholic school who stood over their students’ desks ready to whack with the ruler if they so much as looked the other way from their work. Is this a good use of the supervisor’s time? Supervisors should have more to do than simply watch over employees or count the keystrokes they have used during the workday. It also reflects the idea that we need to catch employees doing bad things which, again, is only counterproductive. The idea some managers have that they are the only productive employees and never make mistakes just isn’t human. That type of thinking only breeds a culture of mistrust and an “us vs them” mentality which never helps to motivate employees.

An earlier blog mentioned monitoring health and fitness was a concern because it had potential to monitor all work habits but this is it. It is about watching work habits. It’s checking the number of keystrokes made, identifying where people walk or travel, or reading emails and messaging for inappropriate conduct. Some of this is done through computer programs, cameras or scanners and GPS equipment. In other words, the technology that we all have come to love can also be something that can work against us and become something we hate.

It’s one thing if workplaces are gathering information to make improvements but it’s another if they are using the information to check up on employees. Even with using the information to make improvements, it’s important for employers to inform, or better yet, discuss the situation with employees before they do it. Taking suggestions and ideas from employees first before using equipment to monitor is the best alternative. If employees suggest or agree to using the equipment to improve practices, employers have a better opportunity for buy-in, otherwise there will be negative consequences which could be lawsuits, increased health insurance costs because of stress issues, turnover costs, and low productivity instead of the increased productivity employers think they will get from monitoring.

Monitoring may help in certain situations such as with accidents. The article mentions cameras helped to prove it wasn’t the employee of an organization who was at fault in a vehicular accident. Using cameras for accident concerns or for other safety issues need to be explained up front so employees are aware of why cameras or other monitoring devices are needed. Anytime employers provide employees with the expectations, especially at the beginning of a job, can help both the employer and employee. The employee has a better understanding, or should have a better understanding, of what is required.

The legal issues of monitoring is also a problem that was mentioned above. There is no federal law in the U.S. that says monitoring employees is illegal. Employers do have the right but it is best to check about state laws. The legal concern is where the monitoring is being done and how it is being done.

If you are an employer and you’re concerned about productivity, why not try employee engagement first. Follow some good practices, get some help and be patient. The productivity results can be much more impressive and possibly with a lot less cost than monitoring equipment and taking valuable supervisory time away from other important duties.

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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