With the implementation of return-to-office strategies by companies, there is growing interest among employers in using artificial intelligence. This interest is not aimed at replacing employees but rather at monitoring their activities.
Research conducted by Top10VPN, a virtual private network comparison site, indicated that between March 2020 and June 2023, there was a 54% increase in the demand for employee surveillance software.
Employees are becoming increasingly aware of this trend. Data from the American Psychological Association revealed that 51% of employees acknowledge that their employer employs technology for monitoring purposes while they are engaged in work.
Being aware of this surveillance has had adverse psychological repercussions. Data from the APA reveals that nearly one-third, or 32%, of employees who are aware that their bosses use technology for monitoring reported their mental health as fair or poor.
In contrast, only 24% of those who are not subject to monitoring reported similar mental health conditions. Additionally, nearly half, or 45%, of those being monitored stated that their workplaces have a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 29% of those who are not subjected to such monitoring.
A significant 81% of workers express feelings of being inappropriately watched due to AI monitoring.
Before the pandemic, the most prevalent form of monitoring involved badge swipes, according to Brian Kropp, Vice President of the human resources research firm Gartner Inc, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
However, in the current landscape, employers are increasingly turning to technologies that monitor employees' log-in and log-out times, track their communication partners, and even analyse the content of their conversations.
One software solution, Traqq, boasts the capability to "identify and report applications and websites where a user spends more than 10 seconds," as outlined on its website.
Meanwhile, another software called Time Doctor offers "ethical video screen recording," enabling employers to ascertain whether employees are diligently working on their assigned tasks or potentially engaged in other activities, such as watching Netflix, as described on its website.
According to data from the Pew Research Centre, the majority of Americans are against this type of tracking. In fact, 81% of workers expressed that the use of AI monitoring technology would make them feel like they are being inappropriately surveilled.
This is likely to lead to strained relationships between employers and their employees, as noted by Leslie Hammer, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University and co-director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Centre, in discussions with the APA.
"When employees feel they are not cared for or trusted by their employers, they are likely to have lower levels of commitment to the organisation and perceive lower levels of psychological safety and higher levels of stress, all negatively affecting the relationship between employees and their employers, and specifically their managers and supervisors," Hammer said.
Data from the Pew Research Centre suggested that some employees do see a few potential positive outcomes from AI monitoring. Almost half, or 49%, believe that workplace security would improve, while 46% think that inappropriate behaviour in the workplace would likely decrease as a result. However, in general, workers tend to agree that there are more disadvantages than advantages associated with AI monitoring.
"When comparing the stress, strain and burnout associated with electronic monitoring to the benefits, in most occupations, this is not warranted. It sends a message of distrust and creates a sense of anxiety that may in turn impact an employee's psychological health, physical health and job performance negatively," Hammer told the APA.
7 ways to prioritise employee health
1. Employee engagement
Employee engagement is set to play a pivotal role. According to Ms Sheetal A Iswalkar, Head of HR and Administration at Fullife Healthcare Pvt Ltd, the extent to which employees effectively engage with their work will have a profound impact on their connection to the organisation. She also provided a few examples of cultivating a culture of engagement:
- Assigning challenging tasks to teams.
- Ensuring that every role aligns with employees' skills and traits.
- Acknowledging individual contributions.
- Cultivating a flexible work environment.
In addition, qualities such as openness to change, empathy, and inclusiveness will be crucial for attracting and retaining high-quality employees within the company.
2. Fun Fridays
The level of happiness people experience at work is strongly impacted by their capacity to relax, have fun, and enjoy the company of their colleagues. This relaxed atmosphere fosters positive thinking, enhances overall well-being, and contributes to improved mental health. Content employees are also less prone to absenteeism and errors in their work.
“At FloBiz, we have introduced the concept of Fun Fridays as an opportunity to bond well and have a good time with one another so that employees can get to know each other better in a relaxed atmosphere over some food and games. This also helps build camaraderie and trust amongst the team members,” Rabi Agrawal Head of HR of Flobiz told People Matters.
3. Monitor food intake
Promoting workplace wellness can be effectively achieved by focusing on healthy eating habits. According to Ms Richa Jaggi, Co-Founder and CMO of Awshad, leaders can support their employees by encouraging healthy eating. This can be accomplished by introducing a well-stocked pantry with nutritious snacks. Additionally, organisations can consider involving a dietician to assist employees in making informed and healthier food choices.
4. Expert-led health and wellness sessions
To address the challenges of today's competitive environment, mental health should not be overlooked. Mr Shantanu Das, Chief Human Resources Officer of Amway India, recommends prioritising the physical and mental well-being of employees, which can have a significant impact. In the upcoming year, consider arranging expert-led health and wellness sessions, such as yoga, aerobics, or Zumba, to reduce stress and anxiety. Additionally, interactive chat sessions on topics like detoxing, cultivating happiness, and laughter therapy can contribute to enhancing emotional resilience among employees.
5. Flexible working and breaks
Many organisations have recognised the importance of expanding flexible work hours. This practice not only enhances productivity but also fosters a sense of trust within the company, demonstrating sensitivity to the needs of employees. With a variety of systems and tools in use, flexibility has become the prevailing standard, aiding in both attracting new talent to the organisation and retaining existing resources.
“I would also like to stress that the companies should encourage employees to take adequate breaks in between work so that their wellness is not compromised either physically, emotionally or mentally. These much desired breaks also help to offset the fatigue, build team spirit, keep the creative juices flowing and break the monotony of routine,” suggested the Head of HR, Flobiz.
6. Workout office buddies
Having workout office buddies can be highly beneficial for staying active and healthy. Exercising with colleagues who share similar fitness goals can be motivating and enjoyable. The co-founder and CMO of Awshad suggests that HR managers can support employees by forming groups of health-oriented co-workers. This approach enables employees to set fitness milestones, work together to achieve them, and increase their chances of staying active and fit.