It has become a common understanding for people that if they work from home, their employers are most probably going to monitor their activities during their working hours. While a majority of the employers are aware of their rights to monitor their staff, one must also learn to keep the legal and ethical considerations in mind.
Though the process has only got positive results, the monitoring tools may have negative impacts on your organization as well. We don’t, yet, live in a machine-driven world, and your employees are your most important assets. They do have opinions, feelings, and attitudes about the way you treat them.
It is the reason why all the business owners need to ask themselves, “Am I following employee monitoring ethics?” Think about every business decision that you make that concerns your employees. Are you sure you are not intimidating them with the 24X7 vigilance? Have your colleagues really enhanced their productivity?
Let’s get into the issues regarding employee monitoring ethics, but we’ll stop for a second and discuss why a company needs to monitor their staff.
Why Do You Need Employee Monitoring Software?
As you might decipher, a majority of businesses and corporations have started using employee tracking tools on their staffs’ devices. And we are not just talking about the big corporations, but also the medium-sized companies, startups, and freelancers.
But why? Why is it such a big deal?
There are three primary reasons why. Firstly, they worry about their company’s data and want to avoid any potential risks of data breaching, leaking, or hackers reaching out.
Secondly, such tools make micromanagement easy. So, they can focus on various other aspects of leveraging their company’s growth while a tool keeps a tab on their staff’s activities. Employee Productivity and discipline increase this way, and assessment becomes fair.
Finally, managers can take control of their company’s assets even when their staff is working distantly- from devices to networks, company data files, staff accounts, and many more. Such tools have thus become very popular during the COVID-19 pandemic as the employees are working from home.
EmpMonitor is one such software that assists employers in tracking their staff remotely as well as working on their premises. From regular screenshots to a graphical representation of the actual working and non-working hours, it offers you all.
Now you know how such tools benefit a company. But what about the employees? Is it okay to peep into someone’s screen while they’re working? Does one absolutely have to do that? And, of course, the question that we all have in our minds:
Is Employee Monitoring Even Legal?
There are various articles regarding an in-depth analysis of the legality of employee monitoring, so let me give you a short answer- yes, it is.
It is legal in most of the cases but differs on the basis of your country, sector, industry, size of your company, etc. You might also have to notify your staff and have their consent in most of the cases.
Bonus- Here are 12 Top-Most Enquired Questions About Employee Monitoring Laws
Thus, it would be best if you first get familiar with the laws. It may also help you in answering some questions regarding privacy and ethics that you might be having in your minds.
Which brings us to the next question:
So, Is Employee Monitoring Ethical?
Honestly, there is no definitive reply to this question. The answer is more complicated than a single yes or no. Employee monitoring ethics depend a lot on a company’s work culture, the extent of shared data, number of distant employees, type of assigned work, and so on. Thus, the answer ranges from “somewhat” to “mostly” ethical.
Perhaps, what does the term ethics even mean? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “ethics” can be defined as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.” But how do you label something good, bad, or moral in any context?
Something that is good for a company may be bad for the employees. So, do you need to balance it out to make it more ethical?
For instance, an employer might succeed in keeping their company data safe with their distant staff, but they might have to check their emails every once in a while to make it happen. This way, the company benefits with security at the cost of their staff’s privacy. However, many organizations create separate official profiles for their workers and prohibit them from using any of their personal accounts on their work devices. This way, they can check their emails and still maintain their privacy!
In short, the question should not be if employee monitoring is ethical as a whole, but whether a person can follow ethics while still monitoring their staff. The answer to this is, of course, a loud YES!!!
Let’s look into some of the things that you can expect in your workplace if you are actually following the employee monitoring ethics, along with considering your work expectations and business goals.
According to a survey, about 70% of employees claim to be less concerned about their systems getting monitored if their employers inform them about it. Furthermore, about 55% of employees consider quitting their jobs if they found out that their bosses were secretly tracking their work.
What’s the takeaway here? Well, it would be safe to conclude that employees appreciate transparency and honestly at their workplace and don’t necessarily consider it as a threat to their privacy.
One of the primary reasons behind considering employee monitoring is to ensure transparency and improve company culture. And your employees are aware of it. So there’s no point in hiding it from them.
As long as you are open and honest about it, you are actually following your morals. If your employees are aware of whatever is going on and agree to it, a large part of your employee monitoring ethics dilemma gets resolved.
Also Read, How To Achieve Insider Threat Management In 05 Steps
It is difficult to determine if an employee is actually working extra in that overtime or making up for their piled-up tasks as a result of procrastination. Many employees, on the other hand, finish their work faster than others and input their extra hours in learning more.
It is, honestly, barely possible to tell the difference between them both unless you keep a tab on their tasks every now and then. Employees appreciate a fair assessment of their work. And thus, they don’t mind their employers taking a look into their screens whenever deemed necessary.
Meaning, your colleagues would be happier if you assess and analyze their work fairly, provided that you recognize them for it as well. Turns out, tracking their work ensures employee monitoring ethics with an appreciated environment.
Here are some more reasons why employee monitoring turns out to be beneficial for the employees and their organizations:
Personal Growth: When you get to analyze the workflow of each and every member of your team, you can point out the reasons why their work might be slowing down or help them in case they are stuck with something. Sharing this data with the employees will only make your work assessment more transparent and feasible. It would assist them in retrospecting their workforce management and making necessary changes.
Productivity: One of the biggest reasons why a majority of employers opt for employee tracking is to ensure that they complete their tasks on time, especially if they are working remotely. Employees perform better tasks when they are aware of vigilance upon them. They take more responsibility for their actions and assist their organization in meeting deadlines faster.
Data Safety: It is quite evident why any employer would hesitate in letting their staff handle their company information, considering the extent of potential insider and outsider threats lurking in a company. You don’t cross any limits of employee monitoring ethics when you are doing it to protect sensitive and intricate data.
Policies of Employee Monitoring Ethics
The best way to make sure you follow employee monitoring ethics is by creating and sticking to rules and policies. Create guidelines regarding implementing employee monitoring on your premises and share it with your staff for their consent. This way, they would know how they are going to work and will introduce a pursuit of transparency.
So, what should this policy include? Let us make it a bit easy for you. Just answer five questions: Why? What? Who? Where? And When? Let’s get into details of each of them and how they guide your behavior towards the “ethical” side of the spectrum.
1. Why Monitor Employees?
The first question that is going to test your ethics and morality is- WHY? Why do you want to monitor your staff? See if your answer is any of these:
✔️ So that you can spy on your staff’s personal texts;
✔️ Because you feel bored;
✔️ Because everyone seems to be doing it;
✔️ You don’t know.
In case your answer is any of the above, then you are unfortunately not abiding by employee monitoring ethics. But if you are genuinely worried about the micromanagement of your staff, a fair assessment of tasks, and overall data security, then you’re at a much better track.
2. What Should You Monitor?
If you have an answer to the previous question, then you probably have an answer to this one already.
Do you want to know if your staff is working or just staring at the screen? Track the total hours that they spend on their mouse and keyboards. Do you want to know if they spend a lot of time on unnecessary apps? Get a list of most visited apps and websites. Similarly, there’s an answer to every question that you ask.
But keep one thing in mind, do not only rely on data but also consider the tasks that they perform. For instance, a writer may spend a lot of time staring at their screens and reading articles to come up with new content. You may cross your boundaries surrounding the employee monitoring ethics if you call them out.
3. Who Should You Monitor?
You have two options here- to monitor every individual in your company or to monitor only the ones who pose a potential threat. The latter option might sound feasible to manage, but it does not suit employee monitoring ethics if you compare it to the former one.
For starters, how do you know if someone is a threat? What are your suspicions based on- rumors? Reputation? Perceived behavior?
If your suspicions are right, you may actually avoid unprecedented information leaks from your workplace, but if you’re wrong, this selective monitoring is going to be highly unethical. Isolating employees and not treating them equally are going to raise red flags in such cases.
4. Where Should You Conduct Monitoring?
You can monitor your workplace as well as remote staff directly from your office desk. It is totally okay to monitor your colleagues via workplace camera and monitoring tools on their systems, but there are some legal implications as well.
For instance, you can monitor your office computers, but you will need your employees’ permission to monitor their personal devices. The workplaces that allow their staff to work on BYOD (bring your own devices) usually prefer the latter option, and it would be totally against employee monitoring ethics if you don’t have a written and signed permission for it from the device owner.
5. When Should You Monitor Your Employees?
Lastly, this is the question that can make you gain or lose a lot of points in this game of employee monitoring ethics. When do you track your staff?
Keeping an eye on your colleagues’ activities is okay during the working hours, but you must refrain from doing that during the non-working hours. However, you can record their work if they are working overtime or if they seem to be active at odd hours.
Every employee is entitled to privacy, and you may breach it by peeking into their devices all the time, especially if they work on BYODs. That would be highly against employee monitoring ethics.
Whom To Give Access to Monitoring data?
One more factor that you cannot forget to consider is to decide who gets access to the data that you collect with your employee monitoring software.
If you want to keep your data as reserved as possible, you should never give it out freely. And we are not just talking about third parties but also the people in your own organization.
For instance, you might want to share how many hours your team of developers share on Reddit with their team leader, but it would be pointless to share this info with other TLs. Similarly, think about who has access to what and narrow down this circle as much as you can.
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And One Last Thing...
Now, I know employee monitoring ethics might sound pretty feasible and easy to follow on paper- but it is just a matter of time before you learn how to implement it. You may get stuck at some points. Here’s why you should really care.
What if I get it wrong? Observe if you are able to achieve whatever we discussed in this article and if the employees are still happy with it. Has anyone ever been dissatisfied with the assessment? Does your policy sound condescending? Are you invading someone’s privacy? Make sure you observe the situation thoroughly before jumping into conclusions. In case you know you have taken a wrong step, make you rectify it ASAP.
What if I get it right? If you are sure that you follow all the employee monitoring ethics, then good job! You get a pat on your back! But your job does not end here. Remember that you are monitoring your employees for the betterment of your company, so you must keep checking back to identify and overcome any hurdles beforehand to ensure smooth management.
Following employee monitoring ethics is not just a part of a person’s philosophy and has a lot to do with a company’s working culture. Respecting your employees and valuing their opinions is as crucial as ensuring your company’s safety and productivity. Make sure that you always balance both sides and make decisions that have a positive impact on all.