Employers are spying on workers… to their own detriment

Workplace surveillance has crept into employees’ homes with the rise of remote work. Employees, unsurprisingly, don’t love it.

As remote work rose amid the pandemic, many employers began trying to monitor workers in their homes. A new report indicates that — unsurprisingly — this does not improve morale.

The Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, recently released its “Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance in the Workplace” report, which examined 398 articles about workplace surveillance.

It found that in 2020:

  • Global demand for employee monitoring software increased by 108% in April and 70% in May, compared with 2019.
  • Online searches for “how to monitor employees working from home” increased by 1,705% in April and 652% in May.
  • Employee monitoring software companies saw increased sales inquiries. For example, inquiries for tracking app DeskTime were up 333% in April.

At-home monitoring techniques vary…

… but typically involve tools that track employees’ keystrokes, communication, social media accounts, desktops, or — gulp — even webcams.

Sneek, a service that snaps webcam photos of employees every 5 minutes, saw its signups boom tenfold and reached 10k+ users amid the pandemic. (Sneek says it’s not for spying, but building office culture.)

Moving into serious yikes territory, employees at a UK call center were told they’d be monitored by webcams and AI that would report infractions like eating or being absent from their desks.

To avoid being reported, employees could click a “break” button and explain where they were going (e.g., to the bathroom, to get water).

And how do workers feel about this?

They don’t like it (duh).

Per the report, task-based monitoring — how much work is done and how well — is seen as the least intrusive type of monitoring.

But monitoring the process employees use to complete those tasks strips them of autonomy and can cause “negative psycho-social outcomes,” like stress or waning commitment.

It can also lead to resistance. Vice recently reported on the rise of “mouse movers” to bypass software that detects mouse movement.

And ultimately, employees may just quit. Hey, nobody likes a micromanager.

For more: Check out ZDNet’s interview with Kirstie Ball, the report’s author.

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