Why the UK Is Promoting Remote Employee Monitoring
The debate over the level of productivity achieved by remote workers compared with those in the office has sparked another debate: should employers monitor remote employees?
A recent report by the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found more than half (55%) of managers approve of monitoring remote employees. While the headline may be surprising, digging into the data tells a different story.
Managers say the process of monitoring employees and collecting information about their time spent on laptops each day, among other practices, isn't about ensuring employees are doing the work. Rather, it's to make sure they're not working too hard.Does surveillance in the name of employees' well-being make it ethical? And is it effective?
Why Monitor Well-Being?
Work-related stress has increased in recent years, fueled by pandemic concerns and reduced workforces. The APA's 2021 Work and Well-being survey found that 71% of workers felt tense or stressed on the average workday. Only 20% said they didn't.
The consequences of stress are costly for everyone involved, including employers. Employees who are stressed at work are three times more likely to leave their current position, according to the APA report.
Beyond increased turnover, heightened stress in the workplace can also lead to reduced productivity, higher absenteeism, disengagement and loss of innovation, to name only a few of the devastating impacts. It is no surprise, then, that employers and HR leaders want to invest resources in ensuring their remote workforce is healthy and happy.
Related Article: Using Wellness Initiatives to Boost Retention
Are Employees Happy With the Idea?
It may seem reasonable for employers to want to check in on their employees throughout the course of business, but not everyone welcomes the idea of remote monitoring.
One study by ExpressVPN found that 56% of the 2,000 employees surveyed said they feel stressed or anxious about their employers monitoring their communications and work habits. Two in five employees also said they constantly wonder if they're being watched, and 32% take fewer breaks because of monitoring.
Perhaps this is justified. The study shows that 37% of employers use evidence from their monitoring practices to fire employees, and 73% have used the information collected through surveillance in their performance reviews.
Those numbers seem to indicate that surveilling employees could have the opposite of the intended effect: harming well-being rather than helping.
Two Harvard Business Review studies, in fact, revealed that the idea that employees are more likely to behave when monitored is wrong. In one study, 100 employees were asked about behaviors and monitoring, and respondents indicated that monitoring increased the chance of taking unapproved breaks, disregarding instructions and other negative behaviors.
The other study, conducted with 200 employees who were given tasks to accomplish under surveillance, found they were more likely to cheat. The reasoning behind this, according to the studies, is that when monitored, employees feel the supervisor is taking control of their behavior and therefore disregard their moral compass to complete the work responsibly.
Related Article: Is Responsible Employee Surveillance Possible?
Employee Monitoring in the Workplace
Some business leaders view remote work monitoring technology as a critical lifeline to help organizations better manage their human capital assets and ensure they're working hard while maintaining a healthy life-work balance.
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Three things to keep in mind when considering a monitoring program:
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Monitoring employees can help with the efficiency of remote work, according to Kaine Arkinson, commercial property manager at Shepherd Commercial in the UK, but it is far from a perfect practice — yet. "It is causing some negative effects as companies fine-comb their processes of remote working," he said.
While some employees may feel increased pressure from surveillance, Arkinson's experience is that employees still feel less stress than when they work in the office full-time. The key to introducing any such measure rests in clear communications. Think of the changes in the customer realm pushed by the GDPR — as long as the person understands what information is being collected and why, they will often be more open to the data collection.
Look to the UK as an Example
Akshay Bansal, founder of AI research company Heuro, said employers will find many benefits from monitoring programs, from improved communications, collaboration and performance tracking, to enhanced staff safety by spotting early signs of bad working habits.
The UK is a trailblazer in the space, Bansal said. The government was the first to develop a remote worker monitoring system integrator and allow companies to meet ISO 26262 certification requirements.
To help employers meet requirements and use the technology safely, the UK government issued a digital scheme to support small businesses in their ability to access monitoring software and obtain free advice on the matter.
Trust Is Essential
Not all business leaders agree on the idea of monitoring employees, however.
"I trust my employees to do the job that I've hired them to do and don't need to monitor them to make sure the work is being done," said Gareth Hoyle, managing director of Birmingham, UK-based Marketing Signals, who says keeping staff firmly on task without flexible working patterns can be counterproductive.
In Hoyle's view, the benefits of remote work can be negated by monitoring, if not used correctly. Instead, he said, allowing them to take a walk, clear their heads and generally be more aware of their behaviors can help them perform better and have a more positive outlook on work than monitoring programs.
The caveat to this trust-based approach is that it may not provide employers with a real pulse on how their employees are managing work habits and keeping their well-being in check. So, for employers who refuse to implement monitoring, providing training that helps employees be more mindful of their working behaviors may be the solution.
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