In this golden age of data, many companies are seeking new ways to achieve the highest possible return on investment (ROI). This has led to an increase in employee monitoring where companies track things like productivity, employee location and resource usage.
An effective employee monitoring system can make employees more productive by helping them stay focused. It can also be used to identify problem areas, reallocate resources, limit distractions and increase cybersecurity by allowing businesses to identify hackers or suspicious activity more quickly.
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The benefits of employee monitoring are many, especially when it comes to your bottom line. As an employer, there are laws about what you can and cannot monitor.
It can, however, create serious problems in your workplace culture, which can result in lowered morale and productivity.
Therefore, it's good to disclose early on to employees that you use monitoring tools and to establish a mutual understanding of how and why you use them. [Read related story: Best Employee Monitoring Software.]
Here are four guidelines on how to effectively and positively monitor your employees.
Be specific and upfront.
To avoid paranoia, be specific and clear in identifying what is monitored and why, and how the monitoring will work. This eliminates angst among employees, who may worry they are being flagged for checking their email too often.
Transparency about monitoring and establishing a clear company policy go a long way toward countering uncomfortable or negative situations. Include the policy in your employee handbook, and cover it in your new hire orientation. You may want to obtain written consent from each new employee during the onboarding process.
"I can't think of one person who goes into a job not under the assumption that [their] web activity won't be monitored," said Jason Yau, vice-president of e-commerce and general manager at CanvasPeople. "It's not designed as an invasion of privacy, but rather as a form of regulation."
Your company policy should explicitly address every instance in which the employee is monitored and how. For example, address whether you collect their web history, time spent online, keystrokes, etc., and how you use that information. Is it used to determine pay? What information is used for disciplinary action? What are the limits and terms of each rule regarding monitoring?
Make it clear to employees that the monitoring system is not in place because you do not trust them or as a punishment. Explain your reasoning for implementing it and how it can positively affect them, like being able to objectively measure productivity when it comes time for promotions or determining weak spots in your processes.
Have a good reason for employee monitoring.
A good rule of thumb is to monitor employees' activity only if you have a valid reason or goal related to the business. Private, personal information that you wouldn't otherwise have obtained without the use of monitoring tools shouldn't be recorded or disclosed unless it's absolutely related to the business.
"Monitoring employees should be strictly professional," said Yau. "[Explain that] it doesn't exist as a way to intrude on the personal lives of employees, but rather to make sure that employees are pulling their weight in terms of completing work, collaborating, etc."
Employees will be more understanding of the policy if they see that it is there for a good, sound reason and that you, as their employer, are vigilant about ensuring the monitoring is fair and not intrusive.
For example, security monitoring is common and expected, and provides several benefits to your business. Installing a video surveillance system may lower your insurance costs in some cases, provide evidence in case of an incident, and prevent theft.
To prevent issues with your video surveillance system, post clear signage that states video cameras are used to monitor the premises. The signage alone can serve as a deterrent to theft or incidents.
Specify the rules regarding personal use.
If employees are working on a company device, they should have little to no expectation of total privacy. The company has provided the device and therefore owns it, giving them the legal right to monitor usage under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).
If employees use their devices for personal reasons, there is the possibility that you, their employer, learn information that you should not know. This can become a problem if it encroaches on legally protected areas, such as private health information.
For example, let's say your employee visits specific health sites or makes doctor appointments using their work computer and a record is made of this history through your employee monitoring software. This already puts your business in jeopardy by making you, the employer, aware of an employee's private health condition, which is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You could land in further trouble if this information was leaked in a data breach, which would cause you to run afoul of HIPAA and leave your company vulnerable to litigation.
Be aware of your responsibilities.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to monitor your employees fairly and in a way that respects their autonomy. It is imperative that you have a culture of mutual trust between you, your management team and employees to have a monitoring system that works well.
"If a company doesn't extend trust to their people, [the employees] lose their sense of autonomy and start to underperform," said Krista Hare, founder of Hare Hires.
You also need to be acutely aware of how much you are monitoring and when it needs to be turned off. Employers can easily view GPS coordinates for where their company laptops or smartphones are. Likewise, telematics and fleet tracking indicate where a company vehicle is currently and where it's been.
Businesses have the right to know where their property is – especially if something is stolen. However, unless it's deemed necessary, it's not advised to record where employees go in their off-hours. Be sure that your GPS monitoring is only active during business hours or when the equipment is actively being used by an employee for a work-related purpose. Failing to do so creates trust issues and could lead to possible legal repercussions.
Employee monitoring can be helpful and insightful, giving you access to the inner workings of your employees and how your business runs. But if it is not implemented and handled carefully, you can create a culture of mistrust and lowered morale.
Remember to treat your employees with respect and be as transparent as possible when implementing a monitoring system.
Additional reporting by Andreas Rivera.