Would you spy on your employees?

Some companies want to make sure employees are not slacking off – or moving to the competition

Would you spy on your employees?
Companies in the financial sector normally track staff communication to prevent insider trading. But should employers in other sectors do the same in order to monitor staff productivity, data leaks and violations like sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour?

An article in The Guardian featured several companies already doing this, in addition to software companies that provide the technology that enables employers to act as Big Brother to their workers.

In building a picture of typical user behaviour, for instance, software can measure indicators such as the number of emails being sent, websites visited documents, apps opened, and keystrokes.

When someone deviates from “typical” behaviour, the system alerts the employer.

Keyword detection also helps identify potentially shady behaviour by drawing from predefined terms including swear words and slang. It can pick out, for instance, references to bigotry, misogyny and violence or to drugs and alcohol.

Yet another method measures distraction by looking at how much a person switches between applications. Others use subtle indicators of possible wrongdoing, such as context switching, For example, if one person suggests moving a conversation to encrypted apps or conducting it online, that may mean the topic is too sensitive for the corporate network.

A company called Crossover takes photos of its employees every 10 minutes through their webcam, reported The Guardian.

Using Worksmart, its productivity tool, it combines webcam shots with screenshots of employees’ workstations, app use and key strokes to “score” its employees.

Crossover’s Sanjeev Patni insists workers get over the initial self-consciousness after a few days. They accept the need for such monitoring for their betterment, he says.

Yet another company, Qumram, places monitoring software on employees’ devices, with their consent, to capture everything they do, including the messages they send to customers using WhatsApp.

“If you are a parent and you have a teenage son or daughter coming home late and not doing their homework you might wonder what they are doing. It’s the same as employees,” said Brad Miller, CEO of Awareness Technologies, which sells a package of employee monitoring tools.

“Having the visibility allows you to step in productively,” said Greg Moran, COO of Wiretap. “Even if it’s not a serious offense you can see the early indications of someone heading down a path.”

Still, connecting the dots between a person’s work life and personal life can lead to uncomfortable territory, The Guardian says. An insider at a large consulting firm told the newspaper:

“The more data and technology you have without an underlying theory of how people’s minds work then the easier it is to jump to conclusions and put people in the crosshairs who don’t deserve to be.”

Related stories:
Can you check an employee’s emails without their knowledge?
Ice cream giant's staff surveillance plan revealed

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