Since employees left the office and began working from home, employers have struggled with measuring productivity, wanting to know just how much workers are actually working. Many have started using technologies that allow them to see what workers type, to read employee e-mails, and to actually watch employees using a computer’s camera.
The application of such technology has doubled since the pandemic sent workers home. Prior to the virus halting business as usual, about 30 percent of employers used some type of monitoring technology. Today, 60 percent of large employers track workers to some degree. And the type of monitoring has changed from a simple badge swipe that shows when employees come and go to always-on activity-tracking tools. Some firms even use video analytics to measure facial expressions during meetings to determine which employees make the biggest contributions.
The tracking crosses industries. Some radiologists are being compared to their colleagues using “inactivity” time measures. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority told some staff they could work from home only if they agreed to being monitored the entire workday. From architects to lawyers to academic administrators, professionals are being surveilled.
Workers are not pleased and feel their employers do not trust them. They say the surveillance discourages the valuable back-and-forth between colleagues that often leads to innovation.
The most common complaint is that tracking measures do not accurately capture offline activity. As an example, a finance executive was docked pay when she was doing math problems on paper, reading printouts, and thinking. Such instances lead to the disquieting conclusion that at least some white-collar workers are being paid only if surveillance tracking tools consider their activities actual “work.”
Nevertheless, employers say the monitoring allows them to manage more fairly, and that it helps them weed out shirkers and reward hard workers. They point to how the surveillance forces productivity by docking pay when workers step away from their work areas.
Critics of the practice say that surveillance systems push employers to focus on the appearance of busyness rather than results, and that some of the tools are more invasive than necessary.
Where to draw the line?
- Make an ethical argument in support of employers using employee monitoring technology during regular office hours.
- Make an ethical argument against employers using employee monitoring technology during regular office hours.
- Is it fair to pay workers only when they are sitting and keyboarding in front of the computer?
- At what point do employers step over a line when monitoring employees remotely?
Kantor, J. and Sundaram, A. (2022, August 14). The rise of the worker productivity score. The New York Times. https://www.nyt.com
Ziegler, B. (2022, August 20). Should companies track workers with monitoring technology? The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com