Business activity monitoring, internet monitoring, employee monitoring; call it what you like, it’s a controversial issue.
Employers feel that it they need to monitor their employees because always-on internet provides an infinite number of distractions that can take attention away from work. Some employees, who are prone to dragging their feet, will actively seek distractions online. Other employees, who would ordinarily be diligent and conscientious, may find themselves unintentionally drawn into Facebook intrigues.
The result: lost time, lost productivity, lost resources and lost profit.
It’s no wonder employers want to know what’s potting during work hours.
Employees, on the other hand, feel as though their privacy is violated. They feel as though they’re not trusted. They may feel that so long as the work gets done on time, it shouldn’t matter how long they spend reading celebrity gossip or compulsively following links on Wikipedia.
Monitoring employees’ has the potential to be a legal quagmire; employers and employees have rights, but do the rights of one trump the rights of the other?
The trick is to find a balance between the two.
Employers need to realise that they can’t keep employees off the internet. In fact, it’s almost impossible now that most of them can access the net on their mobile phones. One of the best ways to ensure that both parties’ needs are met is to draw up an acceptable use policy. For example, employees can freely use the net and Facebook in the mornings before official work hours, during lunch and in the evening after official work hours. Many companies then block social media sites and certain websites during work hours so that even if employees give into temptation, they can’t feed their habit.
(There should also be a policy on mobile phone use, but that’s a complicated argument for another day.)
Employers must make this policy very clear to all employees, and it needs to be provided to each employee in writing. Employees need to know exactly what is and isn’t allowed, so that it doesn’t come as a surprise when they are reprimanded for going astray.
Employee also need to know if monitoring software is going to be used; they need to be aware of what will be monitored, how it will be monitored, whether the data is going to be stored, and what percentages will be considered acceptable. This is especially important if part of an employee’s job is to promote the company on social media, for example. If this is only a small part of the job, then maybe 20% of the total time per week is deemed enough to complete the task. If that figure starts creeping into 40%, then questions might rightly be asked.
Employees need to realise that when they’re at work, their time belongs to their employer. They need to consider, honestly, how they would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. Faffing on Facebook when they should be working on an important presentation and downloading massive files (like Blu-ray movies) is, when you get right down to it, theft.
They’re robbing their employers of their time – and time is money.
Legally-speaking, it isn’t illegal for employers to monitor employees’ activities online, within reason. But, they need to be upfront about the fact that they do monitor activity and they need to make policies very clear.