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How ethical is it to monitor employees & work computers?

How ethical is it to spy on subordinates? Where are the reasonable boundaries of employee monitoring? How an employer can monitor work processes without causing a negative reaction, read this article.

Let’s start with a very simple thesis: the main task of a manager is to properly manage his subordinates. I don’t think anyone would argue with this statement, nor would anyone argue with the fact that you have to be aware of everything that is going on in your company in order to be an effective manager. The only question is where the boundary between work and personal space lies.

While the legislation is quite clear and unambiguous, the situation from an ethical point of view is far from simple. A cursory glance shows that most employees want as much freedom as possible and oppose stricter control. They see constant monitoring as an invasion of their personal boundaries, which leads to an accumulation of stress, a decrease in job satisfaction and, ultimately, a drop in performance or even dismissal.

But if you take a closer look, it becomes clear that competent staff monitoring is not at all perceived as rigid control. A simple example: let’s say you see in your time reporting system that one of your managers spent half the day on social networks and did not meet his daily quota. If you immediately call him into the office and scold him for procrastination, his subordinate may well have the impression that you are watching his every move, and this – stress. But you can react in another way:

Go to that manager tomorrow morning in person, talk to him or her for a few minutes about the tasks for the day, give a few errands that absolutely need to be done – demonstrating soft rather than hard control, getting the person back to work;

See what has changed: perhaps something has happened in the employee’s life that they cannot cope with, in which case it would be appropriate to offer them a couple of days off or temporarily relieve them of some of their workload. Then the supervision will be perceived positively, as a method of helping rather than supervising.

Monitoring itself is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, it is just a tool. The ethics and appropriateness of monitoring employees is always determined individually, based on exactly how you have organised monitoring system and how you use it.

Building an ethical surveillance system

We’ve formulated 3 simple guidelines that make it easy for you to establish truly relevant, ethical and hassle-free supervision of your employees:

  1. Be transparent. If you are observing something, staff need to know about it. What’s more, people should definitely be told why you’re doing it – for example: “We will monitor correspondence in corporate messengers to better distribute the workload among managers;
  2. Leave people some personal space. Yes, people come to work to work, but during the day everyone needs to ‘breathe out’ from time to time. The lunchroom, the smoking area, the restrooms – these areas should be left out of your control. However, you can still account for time spent away from the workplace – for example, if an employee spends an hour and a half a day in the smoking room, software will show it (no computer activity during that time);
  3. Respond gently. The more pressure you put on staff, the more they will resist any control and monitoring. Remember that you’re putting in surveillance systems to improve company performance and protect yourself from possible abusers, not to make your own subordinates neurotic.

Everything needs a balance. Based on the data from the screen monitoring system, you can plan strategic and tactical changes in the company’s work: form new teams, improve working conditions, keep track of what employees are coping with and what they are not. Less pressure, more transparency, and you won’t have any problems implementing a monitoring software.