Employee Monitoring and Productivity Paradox

As Robert Solow said back in 1987, “you can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” And he’s somewhat right. The ever-improving technology was supposed to help us use our time more productively, but we haven’t seen that happening quite yet. Companies are investing so much money into technology tools, but they’re still failing in onboarding employees with those tools. The result is obvious – they made things worse.

One of such tools is employee monitoring software. The main reason companies are implementing it is productivity, of course. While that reason is satisfactory, the approach more often than not isn’t. Regardless, employee monitoring isn’t going anywhere. Studies show that around 80% of companies use some form of electronic surveillance of employees at work. That’s a huge increase from 35% two decades ago. With new technology, such as AI, the number will just keep rising.

The microchip in your body? It sounds like an Orwellian dystopia from the far future, but it isn’t. For a Swedish startup Epicenter, it’s a reality. The company offers implanting employees with a microchip that works like a swipe card – it opens doors, activates printers, and even helps them use a vending machine.

While the example above is optional for employees, it most other cases, employers have a right to measure everything their workers do. It’s their right to know where their money goes, and that’s understandable. However, while they can measure everything, the real question is if they should. In order to answer that, the companies need to make it clear what they aim to accomplish.

How Employee Monitoring Boosts Productivity

Let’s get back to the employer’s reasons for monitoring. They’re paying employees to do a certain job, and they want to make sure those employees are actually earning that money. Statistics are raising their doubts though – over 64% of employees use the internet for personal affairs during office time. The amount of time they spend surfing differs, but the fact is that when those minutes add up on a yearly basis, a company can lose over $10,000 per employee! That amount of money can make or break the business, so it’s no wonder employers are going great lengths to protect their company.

The reasons for using software to track employee computer usage is simple – when employees are watched, they’re more likely to focus on the work. It’s a phenomenon called the Hawthorne’s effect, which refers to individuals changing their behavior when aware of being observed. The term was coined in 1958, but the effect was known throughout history.

English philosopher Jeremy Bentham created a surveillance method that is supposed to boost productivity back in the 18th century. He invented a panopticon, which is a type of building that is built around the control tower, and it was originally planned as a prison building plan, but it’s applicable to hospitals, asylums or schools. The main idea behind it is that the control tower is built in a way that allows guards to see every part of a prison. While it’s impossible for a guard to observe everyone at once, prisoners can’t know if they’re being observed, which motivates them to act like they are.

Creating the Paradox

While this method can work in such institutions, the situation within the office is somewhat different. Employees are too under the Hawthorne’s effect when their work is monitored. It’s in our human nature to try and show our best work when we’re being observed. The problem is in being monitored at all times, as we can’t achieve putting our best effort 100% of the time. A typical workday consists of 8 hours, however, it’s impossible to constantly produce high-quality work for that long. A human brain can be productive for around 1.5 hours before it needs to take a break. What’s more, studies show that employees are only productive for around 3 hours of a workday. Yet, even when science backs up their workflow, no employee feels comfortable being seen doing non-work-related activities.

Here’s an example: whether you’re a designer, writer, social media manager – you probably get your inspiration surfing the internet. Sometimes it takes as much as one photo, or one tiny forum comment, and you’re brainstorming the next great project. However, being aware of the company tracking employee’s computer can make you less comfortable spending time on those websites looking for inspiration.

Instead of boosting employee’s productivity, employee monitoring achieves quite the opposite. It kills morale, creates an atmosphere of mistrust and leads to employee disengagement, and this, in turn, makes them less productive.

The Middle Ground

Let’s start with the basics – monitoring software introduction. Prior to implementation, your employees should know your reasons for using it. This is your opportunity to show them how they can benefit from it.

Explain how data such software stores can be used to further optimize performance. Some PC activity monitor, such as Workpuls, allow you to sort applications and websites employees are using as productive, unproductive and neutral, and it calculates every employee’s productivity based on their time spent on them.  But, that data isn’t just valuable to you, to know who’s working hard and who’s slacking, but for your employees too. Workpuls has an employee login feature, which allows individuals to access their performance data and see how they can further improve their workflow.

Data recorded by PC usage monitor is a basis for regular performance evaluation. This is where you need to make sure you’re not just informing employees of how they’re performing, but also giving feedback on how they can improve. Monitoring software also allows you to distinguish those hard-working employees that deserve recognition. But, let’s not forget about those carefree slackers either, as they’ll no longer be able to hide behind the work their team did. And with screenshot ability, like Workpuls’, you can always catch them red-handed. You’re leaving them with two options – to either step up their game, or step out of office.

In order to make employee monitoring transparent, you should create a written policy. It should inform about the purpose of using tracking programs for computers, what’s monitored and what’s expected. You should end it with a consent form, obligatory by law in many countries. That way you’re giving your employees a sense of secureness, as you’re promising not to misuse the information you’re gathering.

In Conclusion

Conducting employee monitoring while not hurting employee performance is a challenge. Mutual trust is required in order to function properly, and for that, it’s important to create a transparent atmosphere.