Workplace surveillance is any form of employee monitoring undertaken by an employer.
Although surveillance methods have existed and have been used for several years, during lockdown they have become more and more common. Questions arise regarding what is legal, what is ethical and what is effective people management practice?
Monitoring as an effective people management practice
Monitoring can be used to measure employees’ outputs and employee behaviour which can then be used as supporting evidence should the employee not meet the required levels of performance. It can be argued that due to remote working, evaluating performance and behaviour is more difficult for the employer. However, there are different monitoring styles, but some can be regarded as excessive as they are likely to compromise employee privacy.
It is hard to imagine how monitoring inputs such as keystrokes or taking screenshots at random intervals can give the employer an idea of how well the employee is performing. Monitoring inputs is relatively easy but can be misleading and inaccurate. Focusing on outputs or deliverables is considered more useful for the employer.
Electronic methods of monitoring employees involve processing personal data. Personal data is subject to the data protection principles and processing must adhere to these, thus being lawful, fair, transparent and proportionate. Although processing of personal data is allowed if it is for an employer’s legitimate business interests, the employer must identify these interests, show that processing is necessary to achieve them and balance that against the employee’s privacy rights. Monitoring systems which go too far might results in a breach of the implied duty of trust which can lead to constructive dismissal claims. The situation is even more complex with remote working, as there is a higher risk of capturing personal data (including special category data) which has nothing to do with work.
Trust and confidence also come into play here. Studies have reported a negative impact on psychological wellbeing and trust as a result of employee monitoring. This is due to decreased autonomy and can be regarded as a form of micromanaging, which can lead to increased exhaustion and higher staff turnover.
If you are concerned about an employee’s performance or productivity, consider handling it individually first. This might include checking in regularly with the employee, especially if they are working remotely or setting more objectives, which you can review at different intervals.
A clear company policy and clear communication with employees is essential. This can be achieved by stating the reasons for monitoring, what data will be monitored and how data will be processed, getting employees to explicitly agree to these terms (this is vital for transparency and fairness) and making sure it is used proportionately.