The advantages and benefits of new technology in the workplace can come with risks and downsides. Productivity and surveillance software and equipment that monitor and track the activities of employees are the latest examples.
The advantages and benefits of new technology in the workplace can come with risks and downsides. Productivity software and surveillance equipment are the latest examples.
As New York Times reported this week, “Trying to get the most out of workers is nothing new. And some form of accountability is crucial to an organization’s success. But minute-to-minute tracking of employee behavior, often using crude metrics, is a more aggressive form of accountability than has been historically normal.”
“Organizations can use productivity and surveillance technology to improve the efficiency of their workforces, gain a better understanding of their customers, and track the performance of their employees,” Marcus Clarke, founder of search marketing agency Searchant said via email.
“Being able to track employee productivity and activity in real-time can give managers a sense of how well their employees are performing and help them identify potential issues early on. This information can also give managers a better understanding of how their employees are spending their time and how they can optimize their workflows accordingly,” he observed.
Surveillance technology “can help leaders monitor employee activity in sensitive areas, such as data centers,” Nathan Richardson, founder of the Bariatric Journal pointed out.
“They provide a level of security for businesses and can be used to deter crime and protect assets. Additionally, the footage from these cameras can be used to investigate potential incidents, such as theft or employee misconduct,” he noted.
Risks And Downsides
A survey of CEOs and other corporate officials yielded a list of issues related to the productivity and surveillance programs that can create more problems than they solve.
“Using surveillance technology may have created some problems in my workplace,” admitted Rhett Stubbendeck, CEO of LeverageRx, a personal finance company for healthcare professionals, recalled via email.
“For example, my workers had ethical concerns and felt like we were violating their privacy. One of my employees raised the concern that we don’t trust our employees. I noticed that it was building resentment among them and decreasing employee morale immensely.
“When you hurt your employee’s feelings, they become disengaged and are likely to be less productive, or much worse, leave the organization,” he concluded.
Creating Crisis Situations
“The use of productivity and surveillance technology can create crisis situations for companies and organizations due to the fact that they are not always clear on what they are getting into,” according to Jeff Colt, founder and CEO of Aquarium Fish City, an aquarium and aquatic website.
“Companies oftentimes do not fully understand the ramifications of using these tools. For example, if a company decides to implement surveillance technology in the workplace, it needs to make sure that it is not violating any laws. Additionally, it needs to make sure that it is not infringing on any employee rights or privacy rights,” he said in a statement.
“The use of productivity and surveillance technology can also create crisis situations because some people may not be comfortable with being monitored by their employers. This could lead some employees to feel like they are being treated unfairly as well as causing them to quit their jobs altogether,” Colt noted.
“People generally dislike being micromanaged, and productivity and surveillance technologies are the ultimate micromanagers,” Tiffani Martinez, HR director at Otter PR, said via email.
“Implementing these programs can also give the impression that the C-suite or upper management don’t trust their staff. Surveillance technology methods demonstrate a lack of trust in employees. Working from home during the pandemic showed that employees could be effective, dependable staff members and complete projects remotely. Staff members should be allowed to prove they can do the job without constant monitoring,” she recommended.
“As an HR professional for over a decade, I have seen job candidates immediately lose interest in the position after recruiters are upfront about these productivity technologies,” Martinez recalled.
“The use of these technologies can have the opposite intended effect when not managed properly,” Natalia Morozova, managing partner at Cohen, Tucker & Ades, an immigration law firm.
“Not only can they fail to encourage productivity, but they can also negatively impact employee morale, causing cultural disconnect. It’s important that companies are aware of the impact this is having on the workforce and should question whether they’re inadvertently encouraging toxic practices,” she said.
“Boundaries need to be set to avoid the constant need for monitoring and productivity to prevent employee burnout and maintain higher levels of engagement and greater outputs,” Morozova recommended.
Emotional distress is, “in my opinion, the most significant disadvantage of implementing productivity and surveillance technology,” Adam Garcia, owner of The Stock Dork, an investor and stock market education platform, warned via email.
“Surveillance, rather than increasing productivity, might lower employee morale. Employees believe you do not trust them, and when employees are doubted, turnover increases. You can avoid this problem by alerting your staff ahead of time that monitoring software is being used and that it is ordinary workplace policy; this way, they understand the companywide process and that they are not being singled out,” he advised.
Strong Managers Needed
“Companies only need employee screen tracking tools if they have managers who can’t manage,” advised Amanda Richardson, CEO of CoderPad, a technical assessment platform.
She said via email that “resorting to the use of tracking software typically means that managers:
- “Don’t know how to build trust, give direction and understand reasonable output.
- “Aren’t setting goals on outcomes and business impact (vs. inputs—such as time on screen).
- “Don’t understand the work that their team does or its value. For instance, writing emails is not a great use of my time—deep thinking time is much more valuable. In fact, an hour of thinking on a good or unique solution that produces a two-line email is significantly better than a 20-line email that says nothing.
- “Don’t really know what their employees’ jobs are and, therefore, have unrealistic or unclear expectations.”
“My advice? Take the money you’d spend on tracking software and use it to train—or fire and replace—strong managers instead,” she counseled.