Should Big Boss Be Watching You?

By: Gerald Goh

Employee privacy in the workplace is a thorny issue, as there are few, if any, laws governing precisely what companies can and cannot do with when monitoring their employees.

Some privacy-infringing measures utilised by companies include the installation of close-circuit cameras (CCTVs) to monitor employees, as well as the tracking of phone conversations, instant messaging and emails in the office.

But are these measures justified, or even worthwhile?

Hard(ly) Working

Employers have a natural inclination to ensure that their employees are performing their duties, but when taken to its logical extreme, this can result in the (admittedly far-fetched) practice of logging the exact number of minutes employees spend away from their desks.

After all, some employees do take the opportunity to surf the Internet, check their Facebook or Twitter or even engage in online shopping at work, especially when they think that no one is watching.

But employers (or their trusted associates) will have to spend considerable time and resources reviewing the CCTV footage, and all to catch a few seconds or minutes of unproductive employee behaviour.

And if the employer chooses to install the CCTV(s) purely as a deterrent, the employees will inevitably figure out, sooner or later, what’s going on – and everything will be back at square one.


Additionally, an employer that makes it publicly known that the employees are being constantly monitored is sending out a message that the employees are not to be trusted and that they must be consistently supervised.

It’s akin to having someone (especially your boss) constantly looking over your shoulder at work, which can make you hyper-vigilant and, ironically, cause you to lose focus and concentration on your work – the very outcome the employer was trying to avoid.

This will also likely cause a drop in employee morale and may encourage previously impeccably-performing employees to drop their productivity in protest at management’s surveillance policies.

You Never Know When They’re Listening

Therefore, some companies choose instead to engage in covert surveillance, such as discreetly monitoring whether employees visit any social media websites.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by JobsCentral found that employees are most conscious of their employers tracking their social media profiles, followed by the examination of their instant messaging logs, phone calls made on the office phone and office emails, respectively.

While this clandestine approach avoids the problem of fallout around the office, the obvious question remains: even if your employees are slacking off, what can employers do about it?

And any action taken by employers against wayward employees will, sooner or later, alert them that they’re being watched, negating the advantage of surreptitious monitoring.

Can I Trust You?

Employers should remember that they hire individuals who can be counted on to work without being told to so, either individually or as part of a team. If employers are not sure if an employee is up to the mark, that’s what an employee’s probation period is there for – to gauge his or her suitability for the role.

Minimal surveillance, especially if it is done without being obtrusive, should be fine to help employers run a tight ship, but when carried out over-zealously it can be extremely counter-productive.

Remember, no one likes to be watched constantly – after all, people do get paid to be watched by reality TV show audiences – and being able to positively motivate your employees is surely a far better policy for the long-term productivity of the company.

Do you think you are being watched in the office, or are you watching your employees? Share with us in the comment box below!

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