There is no doubt that technology makes us more effective, engaged and productive workers. Technology also allows for flexibility in how, when, and where people work.
Increasingly, employees are blurring the line between work and home in a way that benefits employers. In other words, the amount of work employees do at home has dramatically increased, not decreased.
However, instead of building a foundation of trust, employers are resorting to heavy-handed monitoring of employees' actions. According to the American Management Association, 66% of employers monitor Internet connections, 45% track keystrokes, and 43% review computer files. Increasingly the monitoring is automatic, with 73% of employers who monitor using automatic technology.
There are two primary arguments for Internet monitoring and tracking. The HR department uses monitoring to police and prevent employees from wasting time on the Internet. The data loss protection side protects sensitive information from leaving an organization without authorization.
The argument and necessity for security via data-leak protection is clear: blocking objectionable material is necessary. However, the argument for tracking of employee Internet use as an HR tool and metric of performance or productivity is problematic at best. At worst, it can backfire.
Monitoring creates a culture of distrust. In fact, if you cannot trust your employees' dedication and work ethic, how can you trust their quality of work, or customer interaction? This lack of trust also serves to stifle innovation, as it creates a rigid set of rules and guidelines. Most companies work hard to create a culture of innovation and creativity, and increased monitoring can stifle such a culture.
In fact, the most motivated employees are unlikely to need monitoring. They are already driven and dedicated to their job. Furthermore, employees who aren't are more likely to look for ways around monitoring. In fact, it seems pretty clear that a culture of monitoring will create structures and rules that penalize the most motivated, high-performing employees.
Trust is a two-way street, companies must trust employees, if they wish employees to be innovative, dedicated and aligned with corporate goals. Employees who still lack motivation and dedication clearly are not a good fit, and need to be let go.
In his book, "Good To Great", Jim Collins argues for getting "the right people on the bus." Specifically, Collins found that getting the wrong people off the bus (those who need to be disciplined – and monitored), and getting the right people on the bus (those who are self disciplined) is a key determinant in companies becoming great.
This ties directly into monitoring. The right people will be self-motivated and self disciplined, and not need monitoring. Data-leak protection can provide security against breaches, however when monitoring is used as a tool to examine every minute of work, we create a false metric of productivity and dedication.
Excessive monitoring as an HR practice creates a rigid, inflexible environment where employees are constantly looking over their shoulders, concerned about employer perception rather than actual innovation. The right employees are more productive when given flexibility and freedom.
Kass is a Public Administration Graduate Student at Drake University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.