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Big Brother Isn't the Way to Manage Employees

Big Brother Isn’t the Way to Manage Employees

Some employers are taking advantage of new technologies to keep a closer and closer eye on their employees.  They’re watching network traffic, reading emails, and recording computer screens. It’s been likened to “Big Brother.” Even worse, it’s not just the IT guys looking at computer usage. Tesco is in hot water for putting electronic armbands on employees to track everything from how fast they are walking to how long they spend in the bathroom. Invasive? That’s nothing.

Professional athletes are being wired up heart rate monitors and GPS tracking to see how much they effort they give in games and practices. Employers have even looked into implanting their workers with RFID chips in order to see what they’re up to.  California went so far as to pass a law to protect workers from implanted tracking devices.

While many people wonder about the ethics of such detailed tracking, or the technology, an important question is if this kind of invasive monitoring is even effective. After all, what can a manager really learn about an employee from their Facebook page?

In the end, invasive monitoring solutions tend to fail for three reasons:

  1. They gather too much of the wrong information. Managers don’t have time to sit through hours of screen recordings and data logs.  They’re too busy to try to understand what is really happening on screen recordings. Most of the data gathered is only useful if you’re already building the case to fire an employee, and you know what you’re looking for. Meanwhile, you’re telling the rest of the workforce that you don’t trust them.
  2. They don’t provide information that helps employees improve. Reading other people’s personal emails won’t give managers any ideas about how to coach their team. Knowing that someone went to Facebook on a company computer doesn’t mean anything if they were on break. If it looks like someone is working slowly, that might be because they’re working on a tough project. If the job of the manager is to help people do better, invasive data gathering won’t help.
  3. Employees get the message being sent. Invasive tracking is a great way to tell employees that you don’t trust them, that you’re not on their side, and that you’re looking for a reason to punish them. Good workers will take this as a message that they’re in the wrong job, and bad workers will take this as an excuse to game the system.

Instead of taking the role of “Big Brother,” managers need to take the role of “Good Manager.” Instead of managing to metrics and hammering on outliers, they should take the role of a personal trainer who wants everyone to do their best.  From that, some degree of observation is obviously needed. No one should complain about their manager watching how they work as long as the goal of watching is to understand how they work and the challenges they’re having. Only from this can managers actually help employees improve.

Looking for more information on HR software products or best practices? Browse reviews, articles and company interviews in our Human Resource Management Research Center.

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Daniel Enthoven

Chief Marketing Officer, Enkata
Daniel Enthoven brings twenty years of technology and call center experience to the Enkata team. Dan was one of the early employees of Nuance Communications, developing their vertical marketing and channel sales programs. Later, Dan joined BeVocal as Director of ...