Is it OK to spy on your employees?

While less than 10 percent of companies now are monitoring employee use of social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and others, that is likely to change over the next few years.  Gartner predicts that 60 percent of companies will be monitoring how their employees use social media by 2015.  Employers are interested in monitoring the posting of comments from employees about the company.  Companies say they monitor employees for reasons such as brand management, sentiment analysis and reputation purposes.  Oh and let’s not forget that social media checks are often  run on candidates before job offers are made.

The week I was heading to SHRM12, and since I was part of the official “HR Blogger” team, I was receiving mass emails from HR Tech companies hoping to connect with me at the conference. One of the folks that contacted me represented a tech company that helped employers monitor social media in house and they were trying to sell me on the idea from an aspect of monitoring “employee productivity.”

I didn’t buy it and I told them so. They of course, came back with several bullet points of continuing to try and sell me on the whole shabang and I told them I would give them a few minutes of my time to hear their viewpoint, but then I was so busy at the conference I just plain forgot. My apologies, if they’re reading this.

Snooping on employees is not a new thing. I used to work at Zales corporate where I was a collector who sat in a room of 120 or so collectors. We had certain daily quotas that had to be met and our phone conversations were constantly being monitored by our employer. I’m sure their reasons were the same as those today with social media and monitoring – to make sure our employees are productive. The thing about it though is that our numbers spoke for themselves. I was top collector for several months, and yet my calls were still being monitored. I was bringing in the revenue, but I was still being treated like I wasn’t.

What this did to all of us was create a sense of sneakiness on the part of our managers and it started to affect how we did our jobs and how we felt overall, about our company. It decreased loyalty and engagement and created a crappy working environment.

IMHO, if you are having to spy on your employees you have a greater problem at hand.  Perhaps you have control or trust issues yourself, and it’s affecting your team and creating a culture of distrust and disloyalty and you should seriously consider revamping your strategy.

With every employer trying to figure out the whole social business thing, there is a tech company out there trying to come up with a way to monitor that. I get that. That’s how new business comes about. And the process of monitoring employees is becoming easier as increasing numbers of surveillance products and services are available which allow companies to keep tabs on their employee internet activities.

Andrew Walls, research vice president at Gartner, said that “The growth in monitoring employee behavior in digital environments is increasingly enabled by new technology and services.  Surveillance of individuals, however, can both mitigate and create risk, which must be managed carefully to comply with ethical and legal standards.  Security monitoring and surveillance must follow enterprise information assets and work processes into whichever technical environments are used by employees to execute work.”

The National Labor Relations Board has also publicly declared a policy that employees should have the right to be able to engage in online discussions about work conditions and even complaints about their employer or working conditions on social media.  A recent NLRB statement said that “the NLRB has filed unfair labor practice charges against employers who have social media policies that the NLRB felt might be construed as ‘chilling’ employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity.”

John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, said that actually much of what is discussed [in the Gartner report] is unwarranted snooping in people’s personal lives.  There is no valid reason for it and companies that engage in such activities should be called out for their unethical activity.”

What’s your take on the whole snooping thing? Do you think it’s ever okay to spy on your employees?

To read the original article, please click here.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.


It's interesting and instructive that you would refer to the practice of employers monitoring the social media activities of it's employees as "spying". I think we need to draw the line between an employee's use of social media at work and use during non-working hours. While I would oppose monitoring during non-working hours, I believe employers have every right to monitor employees activities during work hours to assess both productivity and to ensure employees are actually doing their jobs.

I suggest this issue has arisen because many employees are spending significant portions of their working days on social media and other internet sites for personal reasons, rather than doing what they are being paid to do. In fact, this has become one of the biggest time wasters in the workplace.

If these people are concerned about being monitored, perhaps it suggests they have something to hide. If you're doing your job, why would you be concerned if your employer is trying to confirm that fact. Or should they just take your word for it? It would be nice if that was all that was required. However, the explosion of social media at work for non-work purposes suggests otherwise.

Interesting post Susan. Wayne, take yourself to a museum - a living dinosaur is probably worth a lot of money....

All this talk of spying is predictable and sad. I can see that the tech companies are jumping on the and wagon but they and the companies they are trying to work with are missing the point. Much like Wayne here. If your employees are goofing off then shame on you for either getting your hiring strategy totally wrong or for providing a totally in engaging working environment. No discussin there. Social media is simply exposing how lousy an employer you are. Period.

But if done properly, monitoring conversation steams can be hugely rewarding and insightful. Take it from me, the biggest opportunity in big data terms is monitoring sentiment internally within organisations. As long as you encourage open conversation WITHIN the business there is a great opportunity to engage and get real time feedback from employees.

My advice is to stop fretting over social media use and start the conversation internally. You never know what you might discover.

Nice post Susan.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: