Article: Does employee monitoring undermine ethical leadership?


Does employee monitoring undermine ethical leadership?

While employee monitoring serves a necessary function, it is imperative to underscore the principles of transparency, trust, and respect for employee rights.
Does employee monitoring undermine ethical leadership?

Covid-19 led to a major transformation worldwide when most of the workforce shifted to ‘working from home’ and employers felt a severe need to monitor their employees sitting far away. This led to a rise in the use of technology-driven surveillance systems to monitor employees. Employee monitoring refers to the practice of employers tracking employee activity in the workplace to ensure that workers are being productive. This can include tracking the employees' location, their computer activity, usage of the internet, telephone conversations, and emails sent and received. Employers believe that tracking employees' activities can help them measure their productivity levels, identify any gaps in skills, share appropriate feedback, and provide training to improve performance.

The India Information Technology Act of 2000 allows employee monitoring for genuine business purposes. Indian Employment and Labor Laws permit employers to monitor activities on company equipment, but it must be systematic and respect employee privacy. To ensure transparency, companies must inform employees in advance about the monitoring type and scope, ideally through the employee handbook. It's crucial to clarify the monitoring scope and communicate repercussions for any infractions or inappropriate behaviour, with formal consent from employees being essential.

Employee monitoring should primarily serve business objectives or help employees improve productivity and self-discipline. However, irresponsible monitoring practices, such as recording internal communications or penalizing employees based on inflexible parameters, can undermine worker well-being. Ethical leadership in employee monitoring is vital. Ethical leaders uphold values like fairness, empathy, trust, and honesty, both at work and in their conduct, ensuring that monitoring practices respect employees' rights and dignity.

Also read - Four easy ways to train your workforce in cybersecurity

Build trust by being transparent

Behavioural scientists advise informing employees about business objectives and monitoring practices upfront to build trust (Filabi & Hurley, 2019). Communicating repercussions for violations is essential too. Without this clarity, employees may fear micromanagement, workflow scrutiny, and unfair performance assessment. Lack of transparency leads to suspicion, loss of autonomy, and privacy invasion perceptions, lowering morale and increasing stress. Employees may worry excessively about job security and performance reviews when unaware of monitoring implications. Honest communication about monitoring purposes fosters employee acceptance. Employers should provide a detailed workplace privacy policy document instead of vague statements in employment letters. Well-implemented controls build trust, but inconsistent or overly rigid systems can undermine it (Weibel et al., 2015).

Do not micromanage employee output

Bossware, a surveillance software used by companies, helps track employee computer usage, including log-on/off times, activity, and breaks. While it can provide insights into productivity, it's essential to consider its impact on employee morale and ethical behaviour. Research suggests that excessive monitoring may signal distrust, potentially leading to disengagement. Therefore, ethical leaders need to empathize with employees and use activity data judiciously, prioritising their autonomy and well-being.

Quit the hustle culture- disconnect to reconnect

Employee anxiety surrounding Bossware as a disciplinary tool is growing, leading to increased stress levels and the promotion of a detrimental "Hustle culture" within organizations. This culture places work above personal well-being, pushing employees to work long hours and neglecting their mental health. The intense focus on productivity results in breaks being stigmatized as laziness, fostering a fear of repercussions for even minor productivity deviations and leading to widespread burnout.

While employee monitoring can provide valuable insights through "people analytics," its implementation must prioritize ethics. Ethical leaders distinguish between influence, allowing employees choice, and coercion, involving threats or force. Recent incidents, such as TCS, Amazon, and Meta's return-to-office policies, highlight the need for ethical leadership in managing employee monitoring. Building trust, promoting work-life balance, and fostering transparent communication are essential for cultivating a positive work culture and mitigating the negative impact of surveillance on employee morale and wellbeing.

Way forward for ethical leaders

Offering employees, the following can help them produce top-notch results: 

  • Where feasible, flexibility in work location and hours
  • Chances to grow professionally and advance their careers
  • Assistance with their well-being and health
  • Provide a welcoming and psychologically comfortable environment for your staff.
    And maintain solid relationships and mutual trust in the workplace. Employees feel more confident and are less scared to make mistakes or express themselves when they trust their supervisors and each other.
  • Encouraging employees to self-manage their productivity is preferable to intervening regularly provided they continuously produce high calibre work and do not engage in excessive online browsing.
  • Use monitoring tools that stem from a moral, improvement-centric, and goal-oriented management style. They enable employees to master their productivity and instill a sense of agency; a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee. 
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Topics: Others, Leadership, #Wellbeing

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