Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Private eyes, they’re watching you…

No one likes the idea of a workplace in which managers keep a constant eye on employees. Workers find it creepy, and it’s not as if ambitious managers clawed their way up the ladder just to snoop on their underlings all day. Still, much of the surveillance now takes place electronically—in theory, freeing bosses to focus on other matters while monitoring software keeps everyone in line. So office spying isn’t going away.

So says this article on, which nevertheless concludes that “electronic surveillance in the workplace is strikingly effective,” citing a survey [pdf] jointly conducted by professors at Washington University, BYU, and MIT.

I’m pretty sure, however, the type of workplace surveillance noted in a lawsuit filed by the EEOC falls on the creepy side of the line, as opposed to the effective. From the EEOC’s press release:

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, between March and July 2010, Davis Typewriter Company’s operations manager commandeered the company’s security camera system to stream hours of footage of former employee Tracey Kelley’s breasts and body onto his office computer.

Surveillance and privacy have been hot topics of discussion of late. How you handle these issues in your workplace will depend, in large part, on how you want your employees to perceive  you as an employer—as a partner in trust, or as a distrustful watchdog.

Rather than watching everyone, the more prudent course of action is only to watch when an employee gives you a reason to do so. Do you have reason to believe an employee is stealing from you? Then watch that employee. Do you think an employee is fraudulently using FMLA leave? Then watch that employees. Do you believe an employee is leaking secrets to a competitor? Then watch that employee.

To watch everyone, however, without reason, leads to “distrust, conformity, and mediocrity,” three traits to which you should not want your employees to strive, and which will not help you run a successful business.