An employee-monitoring policy can help you better understand how and where your employees are spending their time — but there are downsides, too.

If you've heard reports that employees at your business are abusing unsupervised time, you may consider instituting an employee-monitoring policy to keep tabs on their activities during work hours.

Private employers have some flexibility in monitoring employee activity in the workplace. They can typically monitor certain communications on company-issued devices like laptops, tablets and phones. This includes gathering information on:

  • Whether drivers are adhering to established routes
  • Details of internet usage, including sites visited and time spent there
  • Mobile or computer applications used
  • Productivity levels
  • Tasks completed
  • Emails sent and received about work
  • Phone usage

But just because something may be permissible, does not always mean it is best practice. Handled poorly, employee monitoring could negatively affect your employees, leading to disengagement and demotivation. In turn, that could hurt your business.

Savvy companies draft and implement policies notifying employees what, if any, work-related devices may be monitored and the type of conduct that may violate company policy. They will institute a written employee-monitoring policy that is clear about what will be observed and when. MIT's best practice is to have employees sign written consent forms acknowledging that they understand that all their activities using company-owned devices may be monitored.

If wanting to track their location via their phone's GPS function, get written consent. Consider the legitimate business need for doing so, and review any applicable privacy laws in your jurisdiction. The fact that you may be able to track and closely monitor every step your employees take doesn't mean you should. It's important to think through the pros, cons and details before implementing any policies or technology.

The Benefits of Monitoring

One key benefit of monitoring employees is to be able to recognize small issues before they mushroom into big problems. Say, for example, that monitoring the number of sales calls team members make each day alerts you to the fact that the department is woefully behind on reaching its quota. Or that one employee is suddenly not performing at standard. This objective, quantifiable data can help you identify issues and take steps to correct them.

Monitoring employees is also useful in preventing proprietary information from being shared outside the organization. Through email, phone and internet monitoring, companies can spot any misuse of confidential information before it goes too far.

Finally, sometimes monitoring employees can help employers manage and respond to employee relations issues. Being able to observe where an employee was, or what they were doing on a particular date and time could help employers navigate and resolve workplace disputes.

The Downsides of Monitoring

While it may be evident to you as a business owner why monitoring employees can be beneficial, it takes tact and clarity to communicate this to employees and obtain consent. It's important to emphasize why you're doing it and exactly what you'll be tracking. But there are also reasons to limit the amount of monitoring you do.

  • Poor morale: Proof that you don't trust your employees generally results in worsening productivity and loyalty from employees, which can spread quickly through the organization. After all, if you don't trust them, what motivates them to trust you?
  • Privacy invasion: Employees can feel that they have no privacy, and that's not conducive to sticking around.
  • Higher turnover: Feeling that they aren't trusted to do their job coupled with the anxiety of being constantly watched can lead employees to leave. That can quickly prove costly and hurt your reputation as an employer.
  • Abuse of information: Maintaining personal data can create risk, especially when monitoring employee locations using GPS tracking. To help prevent misuse of this information, ensure that access to this information is limited to only those who need to know.

And keep in mind, as a preliminary consideration, that monitoring everything could generate an immense amount of data, much of it useless. Before you start monitoring employees, first think about what kind of information would help your organization be more effective and how you could use it. If you can't or won't act on certain types of information, there is no need to gather it. From there, consult experienced counsel on development and implementation of clear monitoring policies that communicate what, when and how you intend to monitor and ensure you obtain and retain records of employee consent.

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Tags: Data and Analytics Employee Guidelines employee management Privacy