HR Tech Number of the Day: employee surveillance

Most employers are monitoring remote workers' digital activity—but it could be to their detriment.
By: | June 1, 2021 • 2 min read

78: Percentage of employers tracking remote employees’ digital activity and performance

While workforces adjusted to remote work over the last year, employer concerns about productivity in the new virtual setting reportedly went largely unfounded; however, many organizations are continuing to monitor employees’ digital communication.

That’s according to a new survey of 4,000 employers and employees by ExpressVPN, which found that 78% of employers track remote employees’ digital activity and performance. Of those, approximately 90% of employers surveyed said they actively track how employees are spending their time online, including any non-work activity. And, they’re using that information: Nearly three-quarters said digital records of employees’ emails, calls or messages have been used to inform performance reviews, and almost half have terminated an employee because of information gathered through digital surveillance.

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Despite the vast adoption of digital surveillance tools, 83% of employers said there are ethical questions related to such practices.

What it means to HR leaders

That’s evidently a perspective shared by many employees. Fifty-six percent of employees said they are stressed and anxious about the potential of their employers surveilling their digital communications. Because of that, nearly one-third said they take fewer breaks, and more than 40% are constantly wondering if their activity is being watched.

While more than half of employees said they are aware their employer is monitoring their digital activity, one in six reported not knowing such surveillance was even possible. That disconnect could grow, as more than 20% of employers that said they plan to implement new surveillance monitoring tools don’t intend to tell their employees.

See also: 5 ways to help your hybrid workforce succeed

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Employers may need to think twice about rolling out such tools—or, at least, the communication strategy around it: More than half of employees said they would be likely to quit if their employer increased digital surveillance, while nearly a quarter would take a pay cut to avoid such monitoring.

Researchers cautioned employers to consider privacy issues, employee wellbeing and long-term retention as they strategize for managing productivity, especially as more organizations pivot to permanent hybrid or remote work.

“Ultimately,” they wrote, “the future of the growing, long-term remote workforce is still unclear, but both employers and their employees need to be informed and use discretion when deciding how to move forward in a way that’s beneficial for both their business and their remote workforce.”

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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