Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

Surveillance at Work: Issues and Recommendations

The possibility of employers checking potential hires’ social networking sites to attain a more in-depth look at what candidates might really be like is now common knowledge. Likewise, most people also know that employers are increasingly monitoring their computer activities at work and that this can come in the form of programs that track time spent on work related and non-work related software as well as the types of websites you visit. These have become part of a “new normal.” However, surveillance can be more invasive and extend beyond the workplace itself. It can come in the form of tracking, through GPS, where you drive the company vehicle or employers’ hiring private investigators to verify health or injury claims as the following video shows:

Global Interviews: Vancouver Private Investigator on Employee Surveillance

We are still currently working out the conflict between employees’ right to privacy and employers’ rights to verify the truth of the information you submit for employment or other claims, ensure a fair exchange of labor for compensation per the employment contract, and maintain security of sensitive company related information. In the meantime, job applicants and employees who have information on the Internet that casts an unfavorable light on themselves must engage in some impression management. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Google your own name every now and then to see what kind of information is associated with you
  • Look into setting your social networking profile on “private” and think about what you post
  • If you are on the job, you can keep your non-work and work related activities separate by confining non-work related communications to your own device – yes, you can still watch cat videos!

The following video provides more information on employees’ and employers’ rights along with best practice recommendations for employees:

Computer Privacy in the Workplace
Featuring Attorney Wendi Lazar of Outten and Golden, LLP in New York

Many of us know intuitively that electronic surveillance of our computer and Internet activity at work isn’t going to do wonders for employee satisfaction and engagement. People like to maintain some degree of personal space and privacy. If you just take a moment to think about this, chances are you can probably recall some instance when you felt a visceral discomfort in reaction to being closely scrutinized. It hardly matters where the scrutiny is coming from (i.e., an employer, the government, or some stranger), whether or not you were following the rules or not at the time, or whether or not it is “for your own good.” Some of us want more “space” and privacy than others but I have yet to encounter one person who likes to be monitored all the time.

Electronic surveillance isn’t a foolproof solution when it comes to keeping employees on task either. Mixing of work and non-work related activities occurs anyway with the introduction of today’s sophisticated, portable devices (complete with fun features and games). My own 5-year old iPhone, for instance, gives me access to all the old Nintendo games I had known and loved so many years ago, but I digress. I believe that implementing a results-only-work-environment (ROWE) would be a better way to motivate and keep employees on task. From a behavioral psychology standpoint, what can be better than building a positive association with task completion? Implementing ROWE is easier for some jobs than others of course, however I’m considering knowledge work that is compatible with a ROWE system. A lot of headway can be made in this direction and it can all begin with a small pilot test within the organization.

Finally, here are a couple of articles for those who are interested in understanding what employers may be looking for when they come across your social networking profile:

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