When it comes to monitoring employees, transparency and balance should be your top priority.
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Before the arrival of Covid-19, monitoring employee productivity was a pretty simple task for most managers. Sharing an office meant that it was easy to keep track of how long your employees were at their desks, whether their breaks were appropriately timed, and if they were spending more time on their phones than their work PC.
However, with a huge proportion of UK businesses now operating remotely from fitness professionals providing virtual classes to solicitors working online, more and more employers are seeking new methods to track workforce productivity, leading to a sharp increase in the demand for digital monitoring software.
Digital productivity monitoring tools come in many shapes and sizes but generally allow employers to track an individual’s digital activity. This covers many things, from the websites the user visits and time spent logged in, to the number of keystrokes logged per minute.
Some software even uses webcam monitoring to record workers’ eye movements and facial expressions, comparing this information against the amount of work completed. This data is compiled and then analysed to assess how productive a member of staff is, as well as providing insights into how they are likely to perform in the future.
A YouGov survey of 2,000 UK firms found that 12% were already using remote monitoring software to measure employees' productivity. A further 8% were planning on introducing monitoring systems in the coming year, while 6% said they were considering it.
This upward trend could be due to several factors, including the growing availability of monitoring software and the fact that more people are working remotely as a result of the pandemic.
While supporters of the software claim it is a valid method of managing employees, UK lawyers have warned that improper use could be an infringement on an individual’s right to a private life. While it isn’t illegal to use digital monitoring software, it is important to ensure that all employees’ rights to a personal and family life are not compromised.
These rights are protected by Article 8 of the Human Rights Act and have been successfully referenced in lawsuits against employers using this type of software. In 2017, a privately employed sales engineer successfully sued his employer for unfair dismissal after they tracked emails he sent to his family members during work hours.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the company had “failed in its obligations to protect an individual’s right to privacy” and hadn’t struck “a fair balance between the applicant employee’s rights and the rights of his employer”.
Ethical Considerations of Monitoring Productivity
If you decide to use monitoring software to track your employees then you must consider how you will do so ethically. Even if your methods of tracking your workforce are legal, you could risk eroding your employees’ trust, loyalty, and wellbeing if you don’t tread carefully.
Before you decide to implement this type of software, you should first consider why it is needed. Company interests must be balanced against your employees’ right to privacy, and you should always know why you are collecting specific data.
This could be to ensure essential policies are being adhered to, for security or safety reasons, or to record telephone calls for training purposes.
It is worth measuring whether the benefits of collecting this data outweigh the potential impact on your staff. Hayfa Mohdzaini, a researcher at the CIPD, warns that increased surveillance can have a detrimental impact on employee morale.
He said: “Intrusive monitoring can undermine employee trust and may not be effective at gauging performance if the measures are not relevant. For the most part, the implementation of these tools is reflective of a lack of trust between leaders and their employees as more people work remotely.
Tracking things like time spent online and how long tasks take to be done could harm productivity and engagement by creating a culture of distrust and eroding employee morale. The decision to monitor employees could risk losing goodwill.”
If you decide to go ahead with employee monitoring then you must determine who within your organisation will have access to the data. Only those with a legitimate reason should be granted access, and you must have robust methods in place to prevent any potential breeches. You should ensure that every aspect of the way you collect, store, and share this data complies with the UK’s data protection laws.
It is also essential that your employees are aware of exactly how and what you will be monitoring through the surveillance software. Staff should have access to this information easily, worded in a way that makes it clear exactly what your policy is. Your policy should be available to prospective employees before they sign a contract of employment to avoid difficulties further down the road.
Having a point of reference will mean that employees are aware of what is expected of them from the beginning of their contract. Further to this, employees will be aware of any disciplinary procedures that will follow if they do not comply with the company’s computer usage policy.”
In addition to stating what your policy is, it is important to discuss the benefits of monitoring with your staff. Even though this is not a legal requirement, it can help win the employee's support for the decision and assuage any doubts they may have.
Research by the CIPD shows that employees are twice as likely to support the use of monitoring software if their employer discussed it with them before implementing it.
Proceed With Caution
When it comes to monitoring employees, transparency and balance should be your top priority. As well as making sure you comply with privacy and data laws, you should also ask yourself whether the information you gather is a true indicator of productivity.
While it can be hard to monitor, developing true loyalty among employees could be the secret to your business's long-term success.