February 3, 2023

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

78% of employers use software to spy on employees. But the research — and common sense — shows that this tempting practice does far more harm than good. And 83% of employers acknowledge that it is ethically questionable. When you spy on your people, you trade trust, culture and morals for vague data and productivity theater.

Working from home and hybrid models are indispensable. Companies everywhere are investing millions in digital employee experience (DEX), which reduces IT friction and makes employees happier and more productive. Separately, the same remote and hybrid shift has encouraged companies to deploy so-called productivity monitoring technologies. These have the opposite effect, even punishing those allegedly wasting company time.

DEX and productivity monitoring are very different. DEX helps employees and their companies, while surveillance harms both. Plus, ironically, productivity monitoring data is a terrible measure of productivity. Many companies have good reasons for specific safety and compliance monitoring practices. But we must not allow productivity monitoring to be shrouded in the shadows of necessary measures to prevent disasters such as data breaches.

What is productivity monitoring and what does it measure?

Leaders worry about productivity. 85% blame hybrid work for clouding whether employees are productive, even though 87% of employees say working from home makes them more productive.

Productivity monitoring includes things like taking screenshots throughout the day, recording keystrokes and clicks, analyzing message frequency and length, and tracking website usage. All to measure, protect and (hopefully managers) increase employee productivity.

Companies are implementing productivity monitoring to monitor how employees spend their time. But the proxy measures they use are extremely problematic. Screenshots, keyloggers, mouse trackers, and message rate logs don’t capture the important work that takes place outside of the company’s devices. For example, social workers have been penalized for visiting clients. Companies have docked wages for routine toilet breaks. And none of these breaches measure actual productivity, such as results, work quality, or goal achievement.

This technology is doing real harm to people who don’t deserve it. And for what?

Related: Can employee monitoring be done ethically?

The not-so-hidden damage and excruciating cost of oversight

Productivity surveillance damages the relationship between employees and companies and makes employees more likely to lie, cheat, steal, pretend to work and quit.

43% of home workers believe that employee oversight violates their trust; 59% feel fear; 26% feel resentful and 28% feel undervalued when subjected to such technologies. Tracked employees are almost twice as likely to do fake work, and they spend an average of more than an extra hour online every day to be seen by colleagues and managers.

The authors of two 2021 studies found many paradoxical effects of employee supervision. Controlled employees are “significantly more likely” to engage in a myriad of negative behaviors, including damaging and stealing workplace property, taking unauthorized breaks, ignoring instructions and cheating, working at a purposefully slow pace and blaming others for their actions.

During the pandemic, people took stock of their priorities. Millions of people have left their jobs due to poor working conditions and work-life balance, and productivity monitoring is declining. Nearly 60% of tech workers said they would turn down a job offer if they were monitored by audio or video to enforce productivity. About half would quit a job if their employers used audio and/or video surveillance, facial recognition, keystroke tracking, or screenshots.

Related: Your boss is watching you. This is why employee monitoring can be…

DEX vs productivity monitoring

DEX, on the other hand, is a category of technology and strategies to amplify – do not punish – workers. DEX tools find and fix IT issues before they cause delays and frustrations, and track employee sentiment about IT experiences to continuously improve them behind the scenes.

DEX differs from productivity monitoring because it scrutinizes things, not people: device performance, network speed, application crashes, and the like. Companies use this data to improve the technology experience for employees, not to evaluate productivity or penalize them. This is exactly what employees want: 90% say their company’s digital experience has room for improvement, 82% say the delayed resolution of IT issues is slowing down employees, and 68% say DEX has a major or critical impact on turnover.

Related: How to effectively measure and track employee productivity

The contrast couldn’t be more obvious. DEX makes employees more productive, makes the working day more enjoyable and makes companies more money. Monitoring productivity leaves your employees feeling demoralized, untrustworthy, and eager to find a better job. For leaders, it’s time to take a closer look at your so-called productivity monitoring technologies, practices, and data. It is also a time for introspection. Let’s put an end to this misguided trend before it continues.

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