Measuring and increasing productivity has always been top of mind for employers. But when remote work became the new norm in the pandemic, many companies found managing productivity challenging – and turned to employee monitoring software for help.

Since then, interest in surveillance technology has surged, with monitoring software companies like ActivTrak seeing a 35% increase in demand for information and product demos from Canada since March 2020.[1]

And because remote work isn’t going anywhere, companies are still seeking out “tattleware” or “bossware” technologies like ActivTrak for their extensive tracking capabilities that can include keeping an eye on website visits, monitoring chat conversations on workplace collaboration tools, tallying keystroke and mouse activity (including how quickly someone types or doesn’t type), keeping tabs on GPS location, viewing email content, and taking automated screenshots of an employees’ screen. At the extreme end of the spectrum, employees can be watched over their webcam.[2] [3]

Pros and Cons of Employee Monitoring

Here are a few insights we’ve gathered from HR Daily Advisor on why surveillance technologies could be beneficial for some workplaces and employees:

  • Could reveal insights about workload distribution or where groups are spending most/too much/or not enough of their time on certain tasks.
  • Can help to monitor and ensure safe practices are being followed.
  • Can monitor customer interactions to ensure policies are being adhered to and customers are being treated appropriately.[4]

On the other hand, tracking employee activity can also raise serious ethical and legal concerns around employees’ right to privacy. Here are some of the disadvantages:

  • It may be difficult to retain employees if monitoring seems intrusive and/or signals a lack of trust.
  • Personal data is at risk of exposure and misuse.
  • There are legal issues to contend with like different provincial legislations around privacy, for example. Where is the employer versus your employee located?
  • Any monitoring program is only useful if it’s regularly assessed and evaluated. This takes time and money.
  • Employee surveillance may create a false sense of security.[5]

The Law

As of right now there are no laws that require employers to disclose employee monitoring.

And although, in Canada, employees have the right to an expectation of privacy under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), the Office of the Privacy Commissioner does not currently have the ability to issue final binding orders of compliance or levy fines to businesses that violate the provisions set out in PIPEDA. [6]

There is also no specific provincial privacy legislation in Ontario.

Recently, however, the Ontario government introduced the Workers for Workers Act, 2022 (Bill 88) which, if passed, would require large employers (25 or more workers) to develop policies around communicating when, how and why electronic monitoring is being used.[7] The “why” must be for a legitimate business reason.

Introducing Surveillance Practices

Before introducing employee monitoring technology, there are a few best practices HR professionals and companies should consider outlining in their electronic monitoring policies, according to Ryerson’s “Workplace Surveillance and Remote Work” report:

  • Clarity: Be sure your company’s expectations are clearly stated and that your employees consent to the use of monitoring or performance data collection. Consider also getting written consent from employees.
  • Transparency: Communicate to staff how this data is being used and what potential consequences might arise. Employees must also be able to request any personal data that is collected by employers and challenge it as well. Additionally, employees should be able to ask questions about the policy without any fear of retaliation.
  • Inclusion: Before any form of surveillance technology is adopted, all employees should be consulted about the most accurate and fair metrics being used to assess productivity.
  • Least intrusive approach: Make sure that your employee monitoring is based on advancing a valid business interest and use the least invasive monitoring tools that fulfill the employer’s needs. Surveillance tactics should always be used in a reasonable and appropriate manner.
  • Reasonable expectations of employees: Acknowledge employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy in your written policy. For example, employees are entitled to breaks at work, free from any electronic monitoring.
  • Honesty and Equity: Continually assess whether the collection of data is necessary or whether monitoring can be abandoned. Also be sure that surveillance practices do not result in differential treatment of any marginalized group.
  • Security: Treat any information or data collection of employees’ activities in a sensitive and confidential manner and determine how this information will be stored. [8]

Bottom line

Is employee monitoring worth it? Certain features may be worthwhile and may have its place under specific circumstances (think couriers who have their company vehicles tracked for timing and dispatchment updates).

But employers and HR professionals must always clearly communicate if and why monitoring is being used – and consider how tracking technologies can impact staff long-term if mishandled.

For the most part, time may better be spent on building a culture of trust and accountability. A 2013 Tiny Pulse survey found that workplace transparency is the number one factor in employee happiness.[9]

So, perhaps instead of installing a tracking program that keeps tabs on employee activity, speak to your employees and set goals to determine what needs to get done. Or if you’re worried about security, require staff to create stronger passwords that are regularly updated. [10]

Employee monitoring technologies are available tools but not necessarily solutions in every case. The answers to increased productivity seem to point to hiring great talent (don’t miss Preparing for the Future: The New Era of Talent Development Micro-Conference to learn more about this) and forging safe and engaging work environments that give all staff the room to perform to the best of their abilities.