Pros and Cons of Monitoring Your Employees

By Simone Johnson,
business.com writer
|
Aug 14, 2020
Image Credit: Elena Batkova / Getty Images

Monitoring your employees is important, and comes with both advantages and disadvantages.

Having a clear picture of what your employees are working on every day is important to employers. Some businesses use of employee monitoring software to gauge employee productivity.

While using these tools can boost productivity, it also has negative impacts, especially when it comes to how employees feel.

Before deciding whether to use this type of software, it is best to understand the pros and cons employee monitoring.

What are the pros of employee monitoring? 

Employee monitoring provides businesses with several advantages, including boosting workflow and saving money. [Looking for employee monitoring software? Check out our best picks.]

Increased productivity

With so many businesses switching to remote working cultures, management and productivity can fall to the wayside. According to the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, employees work better when they know they're being watched.

Based on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, when employees knew they were being monitored, profits increased by 7%. Workers were more efficient and conscious of their actions and work. Employee monitoring is a proven and effective way of keeping your team on track. 

Expanded savings

Implementing workplace surveillance tools or employee monitoring software isa money-saving tool, becausewhen employees are productive during the time you're paying them for, you are more likely to get your money's worth as an employer.

Research found that employees waste 4.5 work hours a week, which sucks out 20% of every dollar companies make. Each year, companies lose $1,685 per employee due to unproductive workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cost-effective

Employee monitoring software doesn't have to be an expensive buy. Typically, it costs $20 to $150 per user, per year. Like most software, the price you pay depends on the features you want and the number of licenses you need for your team. Most systems do not charge an additional fee, but there may be possible installation and IP renewal charges. Upgrades like geolocation tracking and mobile licensing may also cost extra.

Increased security

Employee monitoring software allows you to view saved documents, installed applications, websites visited, and messages sent on company property, like computers and mobile devices. It monitors business files, account information and client data. This can protect your company from insider threats, security breaches and suspicious behavior. 

"Whether it’s done maliciously or accidentally, employee monitoring software is in a position to alert employers when a user accesses data they're not supposed to," said Boni Satani, head of marketing at Zestard Technologies.

Improved team performance

Reviewing employee activity helps you identify workers who aren't meeting company expectations. For example, you will know if an employee is spending an inordinate amount of time browsing Facebook or looking up sports scores online.

Time-tracking tools monitor the number of hours your team works and how often employees report late to the office. Access to this data allows you to examine your employees' productiveness efficiently.

Additionally, you discover strengths and vulnerabilities within your company. For example, you may find some team members have more time on their hands or are more useful in some areas than others. By gleaner insights into each team member, your executive decision-making is more informed, and you're aware of issues like harassment or poor customer management, for example.

"When employees are monitored regularly, you don't need to go back to their past projects to check their performance during the time of evaluation," Rahul Vij, CEO of WebSpero Solutions told business.com.

Employee monitoring gives you the information you need to quickly address problems.

What are the cons of employee monitoring?

Employee monitoring can be an extremely useful tool, but when misused, it can damage your company's culture.

Hurt feelings

Instead of making employees more productive, surveillance can hurt their morale. Employees feel that you don't trust them, and when employees feel doubted, it leads to increased turnover. You can resolve this issue by informing your team upfront that monitoring software is being used and is standard workplace policy; that way, they understand its companywide protocol and that they aren't being singled out.

Comprehending data takes time

Breaking down employee activity is time-consuming and requires careful examination. Analyzing this information helps with decision-making, but condensing it isn't a quick process. It's a trade-off that requires a little work. 

Too much access can be dangerous

When you have so much access to employees' data and digital activity, you'll inevitably stumble upon personal material, like bank account information, health records, or profoundly private emails. If your system is hacked, employee privacy can be misused or exposed.

Editor's note: Need employee monitoring software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.

 

According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), employers can track the activity on any device they give their employees. This includesfiles, downloads, internet usage and social media activity. Each state, however, may have different guidelines.

Federally, it is not a legal requirement to tell your employees they are being monitored, but worker consent varies by state. 

  • Some companies require employees to give their login information to their social media accounts if asked by their employers. However, in some states, if employees' posts don't threaten their company's brand, workers can keep their login information private. Other businesses have policies that restrict what workers can post about their company.

According to the ECPA, it is illegal to listen in or record any oral or electronic communication. However, in certain cases, you can monitor and record phone conversations on work phones if your motives are backed by valid business concerns. Consent of the individuals involved is a key factor in whether the conversation can be recorded. Federally, you only need the consent of one party. However, each state has particular requirements for the number of participants who need to give their permission before the conversation is recorded. For example, Arizona has a one-party consent monitoring policy. This means to wiretap the conversation you would either have to be one of the individuals in the conversation you're recording or need permission in advance from one of the participants in the discussion. California is a two-party consent state, which means employers need consent from both parties involved to record the conversation.

  • Private emails are also fair game if they are on a company system. On a federal level, you can legally access and view them. However, laws vary by each state. For example, employers in Connecticut and Delaware, are required to tell employees their emails are monitored. States like Colorado and Tennessee require businesses to have an email monitoring policy in place. 
  • Video monitoring is legal on a federal level, but like every employee monitoring method, there must be a legitimate business reason behind the surveillance, and it must be done within reason. This means surveillance in the restroom and private areas aren't allowed. However, if the company's property is under surveillance, you don't have to tell your employees or have them consent to it. To be safe legally, it's best to put up signage informing your workforce that there are security cameras on the grounds. 
  • Keystroke monitoring tracks and records what your employees type on their company devices and is legal on a federal level. Some software alerts you of certain language or phrases you may find harmful to your company. 

Is employee monitoring ethical?

Transparency within your workforce helps you avoid legal trouble and creates a healthier work environment. According to a Dtex Systems report, 77% of employed Americans said they'd be OK with being monitored on personal or work-issued devices, as long as employers let them know upfront.

Although helpful, tracking software poses thorny issues when it comes to your workers' privacy. For example, reading employee's personal emails for no reason, or sharing their private info can land you in significant legal trouble. To avoid this, have a policy in place for employee monitoring and a code of conduct that applies to you and your team. Here are a few ways to monitor employees fairly:

  • Make sure your policies explain in detail what aspects of your employees' devices and the office are monitored.
  • Have your workers sign an agreement that states they are aware of your policies. 
  • Clearly state your expectations in terms of work ethic and behavior. For example, let employees know that sharing company information with outside sources is against protocol.
  • Follow the guidelines according to your state.
  • Make sure you're monitoring employee activity for your company's sake. Selfish or personal reasons beyond are unethical forms of tracking.
  • Monitor all of your employees to the same degree so no one on your team can claim they're being treated unfairly.

Why do employers monitor employees?

Having the ability to track all interactions with company data helps you detect suspicious activity, like private documents being viewed or shared with outside sources. Employee monitoring helps you keep your information safe.

Having this information can also be useful if you need to provide evidence as to why you're terminating an employee. Let's say an employee repeatedly comes to work late. Having a time-tracking system in place gives you a way to prove they're chronically tardy.

It also reminds your team to mindful of their actions and to examine their behavior more closely before they do something. 

In any industry, it's important to know what's going on with your team, and many businesses can benefit from employee monitoring. This is especially true for businesses with remote employees, as it gives them a better handle on what team members who aren't seen in the office every day are working on.

How do employers monitor employees? 

There are many ways to monitor your employees. Various types of employee monitoring software offer the following features:

  • Website tracking: This provides access to employees' browser history and online activity. You can see which sites an employee visited and how much time they spent on that site. 

  • Application monitoring: You can track employee activity on downloaded applications or software. You can retrieve saved documents and information within the program.

  • Social media tracking: You can see messages that were sent through social media and the amount of time workers spend on social media.

  • Email tracking: This is used to access employees' messages. You can view emails received, sent, deleted or archived by workers.

  • Keylogging software: This tool allows you to track what employees are typing.

  • Time tracking: These tools help you monitor how many hours your employees work.

  • GPS tracking: You can see where your employees go with company vehicles, which is ideal for businesses in the trucking service industry.

  • Video surveillance: Monitor employees and see whether workers are stealing or sabotaging company property.
Simone R. Johnson was born and raised in New York City. She graduated from the University of Rochester in 2017 with a dual degree in English language media and communications and film media production. She has been a reporter for several New York publications prior to joining Business News Daily and business.com as a full-time staff writer. When she isn't writing, she enjoys community enrichment projects that serve disadvantaged groups and rereading her favorite novels.
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