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Pros & Cons of Employee Monitoring

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Employee monitoring has a bit of a bad reputation because many people associate it with video surveillance, mistrust, and micromanaging an employee’s workday. At ActivTrak, we’re working to change those perceptions and show the ways that properly implemented employee monitoring can benefit both employees and employers.

Today you’ll learn more about the pros (and the cons) of employee monitoring so you can make an informed decision about whether implementing monitoring tools is right for you. By the end of this article, you’ll not only have a list of pros and cons to weigh for yourself, but you’ll also learn how best to combat the disadvantages of employee monitoring and find out which productivity questions effective monitoring solutions can help you answer.


Changing the Conversation Around Employee Monitoring

Employee monitoring is an umbrella term that encompasses anything a company does to track employee performance, monitor user activity in real-time, assess behavior, and collect proof of work hours. The world of employee monitoring is vast and can take many different forms. The earliest forms of employee monitoring consisted of supervisors walking around the work environment with a clipboard taking notes on everything from workflows to employee morale to employee productivity. As the way we work becomes more digital, monitoring systems that collect computer activity have become increasingly popular.

That definition of employee monitoring — one that emphasizes time tracking and the blanket collection of computer activity — is the one people have relied on for years when thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of employee monitoring. One of ActivTrak’s guiding principles is the need for transparency and collaboration in order to ensure that data gathered from an employee monitoring solution is used for the benefit of everyone, not just the manager.

When organizations, teams, and individuals can view macro-level data on how time is spent, it can open up new opportunities to work better together and explore how teams can be more productive. That’s why we started our journey by redefining the way we think about monitoring employee work activity.

The key is to view employee monitoring as a means to an end, not an end in itself. The data has to come from somewhere, and you might as well get it straight from the source. Still, it’s important to keep things in perspective! You’re not monitoring employees’ activities simply to spy on them because you’re worried about what each one is doing. Instead, you’re collecting work activity data that can be used to fuel your productivity improvement efforts.

Once you’ve shifted your perspective, it becomes much easier to recognize that employee monitoring and transparency are not at odds with one another at all. In fact, having this data can help everyone — the employee, the employer, and the enterprise.


The Pros and Cons of Employee Monitoring

It’s important to think about the impact any new technology will have on your organization, and it’s no different with employee monitoring solutions. The pros and cons often depend on the approach the organization takes with respect to how data is used and shared. With an open and transparent approach, there are actually more pros than cons.

The Pros of Employee Monitoring

  • Improved employee productivity: Gathering data about work activity — which is different from gathering personal data or tracking keystrokes — gives you the information you need to measure and improve employee productivity over time. It can help you identify unproductive workflows, pinpoint which employees are at risk of burnout, and more. If you find an employee or team struggling thanks to your data collection, you can use that information to inform proactive in-person or phone conversations that address the issues you’ve identified.
  • Increased employee engagement and retention: Boosting employee morale and engagement is essential to reducing employee turnover. Engaged employees are usually more creative, more productive, and more likely to develop high-quality relationships that help teams thrive. Employee monitoring gives you visibility into common signs of disengagement, like an increased amount of time spent on social media on work devices or decreased productive time. From there, you can make targeted interventions to better understand what factors are driving disengagement and work with the individual to get things back on track.
  • Optimized business processes: It can be hard to identify business processes or applications that are no longer beneficial, especially in the era of remote work when it’s more difficult than ever to casually observe employee performance on a day-to-day basis. Monitoring tools help organizations identify inefficient processes or ineffective uses of resources by both remote employees and in-office workers. Monitoring tools also make it easier to track how well your productivity improvement efforts are working, giving you the insights you need to make adjustments and optimize processes.
  • Increased revenue: More productivity and fewer inefficient processes are naturally going to lead to higher revenue. Even better, a good monitoring and management tool can help you reduce costs by identifying any redundant or underutilized software so you can reduce your licensing costs while you’re boosting employee morale.
  • Reduced operational compliance risk: When implemented properly, employee monitoring software can help organizations reduce the risk of compliance violations or data breaches due to employee negligence, lack of security awareness, or risky behavior. It can also give you a record of who might be responsible for a violation if it does occur.

The Cons of Employee Monitoring

Even with all the pros of employee monitoring, there are a few limitations that need to be considered as well.

  • Employee privacy concerns: It’s natural for privacy concerns and worries about personal data security to be part of the conversation around different types of employee monitoring. It’s critical for employees to understand what data is and isn’t collected and how that data is used. Explain that you aren’t interested in watching your employees, but rather in collecting aggregate to better understand how they work. Employee monitoring that is implemented in a transparent and collaborative way delivers insights that are beneficial to both employers and employees themselves.
  • Lack of employee trust: If your employees feel like you’re spying on them, they can feel angry, dissatisfied, and even become disengaged — all feelings that employee monitoring is designed to counter, not create. Employee monitoring will only be effective if you have employee buy-in, which means you have to demonstrate to your employees that you’re collecting data for the right reasons and that you aren’t simply tracking for the sake of tracking.
  • Legal concerns: The legality of employee monitoring can feel a little murky at times since it can be state-dependent. While workplace monitoring is fully legal in the majority of cases — especially when monitoring work computers and other work devices — full transparency with employees is always a good idea to avoid any privacy or legality concerns.

These cons of employee monitoring shouldn’t be discounted, but they also shouldn’t discourage you from using employee monitoring software in your enterprise. In fact, when you use the right workforce analytics software you get the best of both worlds — employee data right from the source to help you generate data-driven insights AND an approach to monitoring that doesn’t compromise trust. When you’re fully transparent with your employees, these concerns should remedy themselves.


What Effective Employee Monitoring Can Help You Accomplish

Two people discussing the advantages of employee monitoring

Still wondering what ethical, transparent, employee-centric employee monitoring can do for you? Take a look at some key questions monitoring tools (especially those that focus on workplace analytics) can help you answer across several key categories:

Productivity:

  • What does workforce productivity look like and how can I improve it?
  • When are my teams most productive?
  • Which employees are at risk for burnout?
  • Are my employees frequently distracted?
  • Are workloads balanced across teams?

Collaboration:

  • Are teams spending too much time searching for information?
  • Are employees spending so much time in meetings that productivity is dipping?
  • Do my employees have the right tools to do their jobs quickly and effectively?
  • Can we use messaging apps more effectively to avoid distraction while still supporting collaboration?

Activity and Application Usage:

  • What technology do we REALLY need?
  • How many applications are sitting unused?
  • Does app usage align with expectations for individual roles?
  • How is internet usage affecting productivity?
  • Are employees devoting the right amount of time to each activity?

Operational Compliance:

  • Are employees using unauthorized apps that can cause security issues?
  • Are employees following best practices and regulatory requirements when it comes to accessing and sharing sensitive information?
  • Where can we make our processes and workflows more efficient?

Make Employee Monitoring Work for You

At ActivTrak, we believe that employee monitoring can prove transformative for an enterprise when it’s done correctly. When this is the case, the pros of employee monitoring far outweigh the cons. Even better, those cons can resolve themselves if you go into employee monitoring with the right perspective. If you’re transparent about your monitoring efforts and how you’re using the data to boost employee morale, engagement, and productivity, we know your teams will lend you their support!

Pro Tips: 

  • Shift your thinking from “What are my employees doing?” to “How are my employees working?”
  • Employee monitoring is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  • Focus on transparency. Get employee buy-in from the start for a more trusting, positive monitoring experience.

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