Article: Employee Monitoring- Boost to productivity or Threat to privacy

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Employee Monitoring- Boost to productivity or Threat to privacy

The article projects two viewpoints about employee monitoring- one, how it can improve the pace of work and delivery time and other how it can hamper employees' intrinsic motivation. To know more, read on.
Employee Monitoring- Boost to productivity or Threat to privacy

Thanks to present technology, employers can now track and monitor almost all activities of employees. Recently, a British multi-national bank installed devices named "OccupEye" to track how often bankers are at their workstations. These are heat and motion sensors that record how many hours employees spend at their workstations. Amazon monitored its employees using GPS tags while they were inside the warehouse. If any employee was found to breach any of the company's rules, such as talking to colleagues or leaving work early, he could be dismissed on a ‘three strikes, and you are out' basis. Similarly, Deloitte is believed to use credit card-sized devices created by Humanyze that analyze the tone, speed, and volume, but not the content, of a person's voice, scan for proximity to others and measure physical activity and sleep patterns.

Organizations today can monitor their staff activities and tasks by monitoring their email accounts, internet usage, GPS, employee badges, etc. Employee monitoring allows businesses to track employees' activities and monitor their engagement in their jobs. Though the motive is to expedite productivity but monitoring employees can cause a feeling of distrust and suspicion that can harm the relationship between manager and their workers. The issue of monitoring and tracking employees' activity is still contentious. It seems someone is infringing your privacy.

Abhijit Bhaduri, Founder of Abhijit Bhaduri and Associates advocates how monitoring employees can improve the pace of work and delivery time. Vijay Amrit Raj, General Manager, HR at Reliance Industries Limited, however, talk about how it can hamper an employee's intrinsic motivation. 

 Employee Monitoring:  Boost Productivity -Abhijit Bhaduri

From the theories of Taylor to McGregor and Elton Mayo, there is a constant effort made to figure out how to manage human beings at work. They need to be managed and motivated. The theories have evolved, but one thing has remained constant. Someone had to ensure everyone was doing the work at the pace and delivering as per the stated standard.

Why do humans need to be monitored? That is because all of differ from each other in three aspects – ability, willingness, and likeability. We differ in our ability, i.e., domain knowledge, experience, skills, and ability to reason and learn. Each one will be very different from the other when we measure ourselves on ability. Some people are stronger than others in numerical ability and reasoning. Some others may be able to sing and dance and compose music. This is not the reason humans need to be monitored. 

We also differ significantly in our willingness, ie, our ambition, conscientiousness, and drive. That explains why many parents will lament that their child is intelligent but is unwilling to work hard or gives up when faced with the first obstacle. Your team will have members who are more conscientious and driven than others. Most of us know that we need to eat healthily and exercise, but not everyone can resist a slice of a chocolate cake (or whatever catches your fancy).

The third element of talent is likeability. Is the person rewarding to deal with? People with high emotional quotient will collaborate better. The same message can be conveyed by two managers with very different impact. The style of articulation may leave the employee motivated to work harder. Another manager's style of giving feedback could leave the employees feeling demoralized. People voluntarily choose to work harder and go above and beyond with people who are likable. Much as we like to believe that we are unbiased in our assessment, but the reality is that humans are very poor at judging their level of talent. 

In an organization, we have to get people of varying levels of talent and produce output that is consistent in quality. The top 20% performers contribute 80% of the results of an organization. The next 30% contributes 10% to the total result; leaving the last 50% to contribute only 10%. Peak performance is a measure of ability while average performance is the result of motivation. Organizations have to constantly aim to push average performance towards peak performance.

People resent being monitored. Whether it is a supervisor who nudges the employee taking a longer than permitted lunch break or an algorithm that identifies someone taking too many days off, the process is the same. Robots can work seven days a week (other than down time for maintenance) and do not throw tantrums. But their field of expertise is limited. The machine that assembles boxes cannot speak to humans. Human beings have broader skill sets. But they vary in their talent. Monitoring can be done by tech or by another human. Whether one is supervising humans or machines, they need to be monitored to boost productivity. There is no choice.

 Employee Monitoring: Threat to Privacy- Vijay Amrit Raj

The notion of implanting microchips in your employees' bodies may sound like the stuff of dystopian science fiction, but for a Swedish startup incubator Epicenter, science fiction has already become science fact. The company offers to implant its workers and start-up members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

But the moot question to be asked is, what is the business case for the use of such tracking mechanism? How does it impact employee's perception of employer's role in their life? Is the tradeoff between gathering detailed employee data and perception of invading privacy, ultimately beneficial for an employer? 

The practice has a common sense impact on employee satisfaction due to its impact on privacy. Researchers are unanimous in feeling that there is a general "creep factor" about it.  Research conducted by CEB in 2015 shows that majority of employees consider it unacceptable or have a mixed feeling for their employers to collect this kind of data. 

Monitoring/supervision instruments are not helpful in long term employee motivation as consistent outside stimulation is required to get employee behave in the desired manner. A 2013 experiment on restaurant workers found that surveillance had a strong positive effect on ethical behavior, reducing fraud and theft while enhancing productivity. On the other hand, the study also suggests that these effects don't seem to stick around after the monitoring is removed.

While it is true that people who use tracking technology to monitor how much exercise they get, or how much they read, perform these activities more often, it is equally true that they find them less enjoyable, suggesting that monitoring may be inhibiting their intrinsic motivation. 

In organizations, employee monitoring is used as a tool of providing incentives or threat of punishment to make employee follow desired behavior. Frederick Herzberg refers to such extrinsic factors as "KITA" factors, which is an acronym for "kick in the ass." He refers to ‘supervision' as the second most significant hygiene factor (after Company's policy) which if not deployed wisely may lead to a significant level of dissatisfaction.

It has also been proven that the leadership style which works of close monitoring of employees is the least effective way of managing employee performance. Monitoring ends up being a process which sets up high-performance standards/expectations and exemplifies them by comparing with the best - This has a very positive impact on employees who are self-motivated and highly competent. But other employees tend to feel overwhelmed by such an organizational demands for excellence. The leadership styles which exercises least control/monitoring — has the most positive effect on climate and business performance.

As per a study, work which is 50 percent integrated with life today, will become 95 percent integrated within five years (Twelve predictions for a new world – Seth Kahan) — making it possible for work to be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone. The competing priorities of doing work everywhere and being able to have a life will only magnify the demand for individual space and need for privacy.  

Future demands more humanizing corporations which foster corporate cultures that are inspiring, innovative, and creative. Employee monitoring – on the contrary - is stifling.

Topics: Employee Relations, Technology

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