With millions of employees working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have increasingly adopted employee monitoring tools to monitor their workforce. Doing so raises questions of trust, ethics, and privacy. In this article, we examine how employees and managers view these issues, as well as their rights and responsibilities.
855 employees and 589 managers in the UK responded to a recent employee monitoring survey carried out by GetApp. 36% of employees say that their employer uses an employee monitoring and/or surveillance tool – nearly half of whom (47%) have seen such tools implemented since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
More than 1 in 4 monitored employees did not have their rights explained to them by a manager
According to the UK government’s own website, employers must tell employees if they are being monitored. This information should be provided in employee contracts or handbooks, and it should detail the amount and extent of the monitoring taking place.
Despite this, 26% of monitored employees surveyed say that they did not have their rights explained to them by a manager or HR department. 8% say they looked for this information by themselves.
11% of employees who are monitored in the workplace say they have not expressly consented to any of the listed aspects of workplace monitoring. These aspects include computer activity (such as time-tracking, web browsing, and keystroke logging), attendance logging, and workspace surveillance through webcams, time-lapse photos, or screenshots.
94% of surveyed managers who oversee monitored employees say that employees are either aware or very aware of the tracking measures in place. However, 6% say staff are “quite unaware” and that only managers and those in leadership roles have been informed. 1% say that employees are not aware at all.
There is also a discrepancy between managers and employees when reporting the prevalence of monitoring software: 47% of surveyed managers say that monitoring tools are in place, but only 36% of employees say the same.
When it comes to outright legal breaches, more than half of managers who use monitoring software (51%) admit to overstepping their rights, as determined by law, to monitor employees. 21% say they have done so at least once by mistake, but 30% admitted to doing so willingly.
Data safety is a concern for both employees and managers
Workplace monitoring software necessarily involves the digital collection of personal data relating to employees. In the UK, much of this is protected by law under such regulations as the Data Protection Act 2018 and the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which remains in effect despite the UK’s exit from the EU. Employers must demonstrate that they are collecting, storing, and handling this data correctly.
72% of employees surveyed think the company they work for stores and manipulates their personal data in a safe manner. However, 30% of employees say that uncertainty regarding the use of their personal data is among their top five concerns about employee monitoring and surveillance. Furthermore, 22% of managers list manipulating personal data as one of the top five challenges they have experienced when using employee monitoring and surveillance.
Under the GDPR, data subjects (people whose personal data may be collected and covered by the regulation) can submit requests to data controllers (such as their employer) for information related to that personal data.
The results of the survey show that 1 in 5 employees (20%) have made such a request to their employer, with 16% saying they received no response whatsoever. A further 38% received a response that did not address their request – such as explaining for which purposes the data is used or with which companies it is shared. According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), organisations must respond to such requests as quickly as possible and not less than one calendar month after the request is made. Failure to do so can result in cases being taken to court.
Trust between employees and management is currently high
Trust – or perceived lack of it – remains an issue when it comes to workplace monitoring. Employers may use it simply as an efficient way of logging attendance, workload, and productivity, but negative perceptions about spying and intrusiveness remain among both management and staff.
Overall, employees in the UK feel a high level of trust from management. 95% of survey respondents say that their bosses are trusting or very trusting when it comes to getting on with everyday tasks. 54% say they have a lot of freedom to self-organise at work. 73% say they feel very or quite comfortable taking breaks and attending to personal matters during work hours, and 82% feel very or quite comfortable ending their workday when their contracted hours are complete.
Managers surveyed broadly reflect this level of trust. 53% don’t use any monitoring software at all within their business. Of these, 60% say that it is because they have enough confidence in employees – this being the most selected reason for not implementing such tools.
Monitoring software is seen as positive by almost half of managers
When asked to list their top five concerns about workplace monitoring, employees tend to cite issues of trust and privacy. 47% of all employees say it negatively impacts trust, 43% are worried about intrusiveness, and 46% say they are concerned about increased stress and/or decreased morale for staff. However, among employees who are monitored at work, 45% would not opt-out if they had the option to do so.
Managers report similar concerns to employees in this area. 34% of those who do not monitor their employees say that they do not think it’s ethical. 27% say it has a negative effect on confidence. And 28% say it increases stress or lowers staff morale.
Despite this, 46% of managers overall see monitoring and surveillance tools as being a positive or very positive thing for their business compared with 30% who see it as a negative or very negative.
*Data for the GetApp Employee Monitoring Survey 2021 was collected from 24th February to 3rd March 2021. The sample comes from an online survey of 1,918 respondents that live in the UK.
The survey data used for this article comes from 1,444 participants who have qualified to answer. According to their answers, these were divided into several groups of respondents and subjected to questions adapted to their situation: 855 employees (training, junior and intermediate positions) and 589 senior and management profiles (manager/senior manager/executive manager and owner).
Respondents are over 18 years old, reside in the UK, and their professional situation is active. They work full-time (74%) or part-time (26%), in various sectors of activity and work in companies from 2 to 250 employees.