- Employee surveillance "intensified" during the pandemic and could have a negative impact on key workplace metrics, according to a report produced by the University of St. Andrews and published by the European Commission's Joint Research Council.
- Workplaces in the U.S., U.K. and Europe saw accelerated deployment of monitoring methods such as keystroke, webcam, desktop and email monitoring, researchers found. One source found that the demand for employee monitoring software had increased by 108% between April 2019 and April 2020. Monitoring in remote work environments was linked to perceptions that work both interfered with home life and increased the likelihood of work-family conflict, per the report.
- Excessive monitoring's negative impacts may include increased resistance, decreased job satisfaction, increased stress, decreased organizational commitment and increased propensity for turnover, per the report. Researchers found that workers exhibited differing forms of resistance to surveillance, ranging from small counterproductive behaviors — such as workarounds — to collective behaviors that challenged or denounced surveillance and monitoring. Some workers quit their jobs over the issue.
The report's findings as to the prevalence of remote-work surveillance track with other recent research. For example, a survey conducted in September by business review platform Digital.com found a majority of employer respondents who had staff working from home used some form of monitoring software to track workers, with productivity being a common reason for doing so. Only 14% of respondents had not notified staff about monitoring activities.
Such activities proved to be contentious long before the pandemic. A 2018 survey of users on the anonymous employee app Blind, known for its association with the technology industry, found that one-quarter of respondents said that their organizations went to "unreasonable lengths to monitor employees."
From a compliance perspective, employee monitoring is generally legal in the U.S., one attorney previously told HR Dive, so long as employers provide notice to workers that they will have the right to do so. Not all jurisdictions necessarily require these disclosures, but some do. One such jurisdiction is California, whose privacy laws stipulate that employers must provide a notice of personal information collection to all employees, job applicants and independent contractors who are California residents.
The University of St. Andrews report added that the use of monitoring as a management or supervisory tool "is something which needs to be done with judgement, care and skill" and listed three reasons organizations should take this approach:
- First, so that not only downward but upward organizational visibility is managed.
- Second, so that equality of all kinds is respected.
- Finally, so that jobs are designed to ensure that the degree of surveillance or monitoring is more tolerable.
"Employers impose punitive surveillance which causes the behaviours it was put in place to prevent, as employees try to resist or avoid it. The social support provided by managers for monitored workers is crucial to avoid some of these negative outcomes," Kirstie Ball, professor in the School of Management at the University of St. Andrews and the author of the report, said in a statement. "There is a real need for more research on how data is used by employers and policy may need to change to reflect these new ways of working."
Employers also may need to be aware of the cybersecurity risks that enhanced data collection may pose in the era of remote work, according to CIO Dive. Additional considerations include employees' cultural expectations around privacy and the impact monitoring may have on that dynamic.