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?

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