The Legal, Ethical, and Managerial Concerns of Employee Monitoring
With the increase in the uptake of technology to carry out various work duties many employees have been lax in executing their duties and responsibilities. Employees especially those who work with computers and the internet have been known to use about a third of company time in doing non-work related activities via the internet with majority of them logged into social sites just chatting away. The technology entrusted upon them is to help increase productivity and shorten the time it takes to do work, but some people misuse this privilege at the company’s expense (Jeffrey, 2006, p. 37). When this happens there is need to keep an eye on what the employees are doing with regard to their use of company equipment and technology through employee monitoring. Employee monitoring can take different forms, the most common being management by walking around (MBWA) where the supervisor observes the behavior of the employees and also monitoring employee activities via their computers or other technologies. Employee monitoring is sometimes referred to as a Big Brother phenomenon.
Managers are responsible for what employees do during company hours if it has a direct or indirect effect on their productivity. As per the employee monitoring law, employers are required to come up with an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that stipulates the rights and limitations of employees who use computers as well as the extent to which the employers are going to monitor internet use by their employees. The AUP is a written agreement that is signed by both the employers and their employees. Employees have to read and understand what they are required to do under the AUP before signing the agreement. The agreement sets out rules and regulations concerning internet use while in the work place as well as access privileges. Policies regarding internet use are necessary for the smooth operations of an organization as well as coming up with ethical standards to be adhered to. The employee monitoring law allows the employer to monitor the employees using their computers.
Monitoring systems put in place by the managers must respect the privacy of their employees, as clearly spelt out in the Data Protection Act 1998, while addressing economic and social progress of the firm and all its stakeholders. There are two types of monitoring systems that managers can use; systematic monitoring and routine monitoring. Systematic monitoring involves constant monitoring of all or part of the employee groups while routine monitoring involves the close supervision and observation of employees on an occasional basis usually as a response to a particular need or problem that needs to be addressed on a short term basis.
There is a code that was published by the Information Commissioner as the code of practice to be used by employers from the personal data they obtain through employee monitoring. The code has several principles for monitoring which are that the workers have a right to keep their personal lives private, employers should clearly state the reasons why they want to monitor their employees and to what extent they are expected to go, the workers should understand these circumstances and agree to them by signing the AUP thereby making it a legally binding document through the signing by both parties. The code also includes policies regarding the use of electronic communication as well as data protection issues.
A good monitoring policy has to be developed and put in place so as to be able to balance between the genuine concerns of employers regarding employee activities using company equipment and technology as well as not infringing upon the individual privacy of the employees in the employee monitoring process (John, 2005, p. 61). Technology however good, has a few downsides. In a world that is technology oriented, the same technology has been known to influence people’s values, morals and ethics. This leads to the influence and possible change of people’s actions and behavior which then in turn shape people’s values, ethics and ultimately character. More often than not been known to influence negative behavior which leads to decrease in productivity of workers as many of them take to engaging in social media, bidding and buying things on-line, monitoring the stock exchange activities and news all within prime working hours thereby costing the firms they work over a billion dollars annually according to a research done by The Orlando Sentinel in 1999. The time that most workers engage in surfing the net for non-work related activities is mostly from 10 am to noon according to a study carried out by ComStore Networks in 2002.
With the emergence of information technology which was developed to benefit all the stakeholders with access to information whenever and wherever, many people namely workers customers, suppliers and even competitors have been known to misuse this information. On most occasions the misuse of this information is because of misinterpretation or uncertainty of the information but also the misuse of a firm’s information is often with the intention of harming the company or its executives. To curb these occurrences especially with regard to misunderstanding and uncertainty of company information, employee training is recommended before coming up with an ethics policy that will regulate their actions and behavior.
It is true that employee monitoring is not received well by the employees just like introducing a new organizational culture, this is seen as a big shift from the normal way of doing things and more to that many employees feel that the company wants to know more about their private lives. It is seen as prying into their privacy and employees will tend to reject it. However the employers should make an effort to explain the implications of their employee’s behaviors and actions with regard to the use of company equipment and technology. The managers should incorporate the employees in formulating an ethics policy and an AUP for it to be implemented successfully. Employees need to feel part of the firm and not just as plain workers but as stakeholders so that there can be a unity of purpose in increasing the organization’s productivity success and growth well into the future.
Jeffrey, S. (2006). The visible employee: using workplace monitoring and surveillance. Medford,
NJ: Information Today Inc.
John, W. (2005). Electronic monitoring in the workplace: controversies and solutions. London:
Idea Group Publishing.