Snooping vs supporting: Are you monitoring employee performance or behaviour?

Is it time for Australian business to talk about the ethics of employee monitoring?

Snooping vs supporting: Are you monitoring employee performance or behaviour?

Remote working and advances in technology have given employers the ability to collect more data than ever before. When used strategically, tracking is hugely beneficial – businesses can identify resourcing issues, streamline processes, and identify gaps, but looming questions remain regarding the scope and limits of an employees’ privacy.

Discussions about workplace privacy are everywhere these days, media stories condemn employers’ efforts to monitor their employees and employees seethe about invasions of privacy while employers grapple with how they can gather the information they need to make decisions when there’s no clear ethics or guidelines.

Monica Watt, chief human resources officer at ELMO told HRD: “We need to distinguish the difference between monitoring performance of an employee and monitoring the behaviours of an employee. Monitoring employee performance is a transparent process; it’s devised to support an employee to realise their potential and monitoring employee behaviour is actually skewed towards ensuring people are compliant.”

Watt said monitoring is a ‘could we or should we’ kind of situation. You could be monitoring, but should you? But the really big question Watt says employers should ask themselves is why do you want to monitor? 

“You hire highly skilled capable adults, you’ve got systems and processes in place to manage performance, you’re recognising and rewarding. If you’ve got all of those things in check, then why are you looking at employee monitoring?” asked Watt.

“If you're managing performance and you're achieving your outcomes and objectives, then that's the primary but if you feel like you've lost control over some of those and that's the reason why you're turning to monitoring tools, more likely, it’s a leadership behaviour that’s enabled the loss of control of the business, rather than your employee’s online activity,” said Watt.

Watt thinks that businesses absolutely need to think about the ethics around employee monitoring. “If you don’t bring ethics into employee monitoring, it will completely erode the trust and irreparably damage the relationship between employer and employee, but also in this tight labour market, if it’s out there that that’s what you’re doing, then nobody’s going to want to come and work for you,” said Watt.

“The sheer fact that it’s out there, and it’s in the public, that means more employees are concerned about it. And that means that employers have an opportunity now to have some of those conversations on the front foot because I think there will be more, there is more and more coming up, but also I would really encourage employers and employees in that relationship to have those conversations. Why would we be doing that in the first place? What do we need to see what does our relationship look like? You know, and how do we achieve those common outcomes? If you do that on a consultative practice, then there shouldn't need to be anything secret squirrel behind anybody's back.”

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