There are all sorts of workplaces out there. Some require clocking in and out so that management can ensure every employee is logging a certain amount of hours each week. On the other end of the spectrum is the type of company that doesn’t invest in any employee tracking at all, other than for security purposes. Their staff can come and go as they please, create their own schedules, and even work from home.
However, even seemingly lax companies may monitor employee email or software use. When it comes to employee tracking, ethical and legal issues pop up, along with issues surrounding company culture. Understanding how and why companies track employees is the first step toward deciding what’s right for your business.
Types of Employee Tracking
There are numerous ways for a company to keep an eye on what employees are doing. From direct observation in the office to secretly logging every keystroke an employee makes on their computer, some types of monitoring are helpful, while others can feel invasive:
- Direct monitoring: If a manager wants to directly monitor what’s happening, they may put workspaces in a central, open area. Using hardware that logs keystrokes is another type of direct monitoring.
- Email monitoring: Email monitoring ensures that everything being sent from a company email address is in-line with the company’s values. It will also clear out spam before it reaches an inbox, which helps the employee do their job more efficiently.
- GPS monitoring: Depending on the type of job an employee performs, GPS monitoring may or may not be worthwhile. For example, it’s best when used for the employee’s safety and to prevent accidents, like in the fleet industry. GPS tech can monitor how often a driver hard brakes or speeds, and an in-vehicle buzzer can alert the driver to risky driving so they can improve.
- Network monitoring: In order to keep the company’s network secure and free of viruses, it’s necessary to monitor it. Network monitoring includes tracking the content that’s sent over the network and monitoring who is accessing files.
- Software monitoring: For companies with dispersed teams or remote workers, software monitoring allows managers to keep an eye on what’s happening even when they’re not in the same physical location as employees. Software monitoring logs information like changes to files, conversations, and screenshots.
Regardless of which types of monitoring you decide are right for your business, you have to let employees know how they’re being monitored. You should also have employees sign to acknowledge that they understand how and why they’re being monitored. If your monitoring strategies change, you should update employees right away, preferably before the changes are put in place.
Ethics and Legalities of Employee Tracking
If you don’t approach employee monitoring the professional way, a lot can go wrong. If you neglect to let the employee know they’re being monitored, they may feel betrayed and concerned about working for you. They may wonder, “What else don’t I know?”
Even if they’re aware of the monitoring, employees may feel like their privacy is being invaded. They don’t want a micro-manager who needs to see every single thing they do at every moment of the workday. They’d rather work for someone who trusts them.
Furthermore, certain states have specific legal guidelines to follow. For example, in Connecticut, employees cannot monitor employees without getting consent first. Ensure that your organization is legally compliant in order to avoid issues down the road.
Alternatives to Employee Tracking
Consider why you want to track your employees. There may be another way to achieve the same results. For example, let’s say you’re worried that employees are wasting time at work. They seem to be meeting deliverables and deadlines, but every time you walk into their workspace, they’re on social media or chatting with one another. Instead of monitoring what they do to catch them in the act, talk to them to find out if they’re bored or not challenged enough at work. The problem could be that they don’t have enough to keep them busy.
Here’s another example: Let’s say you need to cut costs, so you want to see who’s clocking in late or leaving early. Unless you have a good reason to think this is happening, a better first step is to audit the workplace and see where waste can be reduced. You may discover that you’re regularly replenishing inventory that isn’t actually being used or that you can use alternative packaging that’s less costly and wasteful.
There are times when tracking is useful to both the company and its employees. For example, applicant tracking systems make it easier for companies to source potential hires and go through hundreds of job applications to hone in on the best ones. For the applicant, that means they’ll get a response sooner rather than later because managers don’t have to manually sort through tons of applications.
On the other hand, some employee tracking feels unethical, giving employees the impression that they’re not trusted by the company they work for. Getting to the root of the issue and determining why you want to track employees will help you decide the best way to monitor them or if they have to be monitored at all.