k_Street Consulting, LLC Blog
Considering How to Monitor Your Employees
Do you know what drives me crazy? It’s the fact that, of all the lists of things you can do to improve your business and boost your productivity and optimize something or other… it seems there's not much to be said about how your employees factor in.
Which seems a little ridiculous to me, if I’m being honest. Your staff is one of your biggest investments. On top of that, it is important to remember that, since your employees are human beings, pushing them to do more might actually result in them accomplishing less.
In my experience, the best way to help an employee accomplish their best is to track their performance and evaluate their next steps. Is this always foolproof? No - but as I said, in my experience, it is the best way.
Before we go any further, it is important that I make something clear: we are proceeding with the understanding and acceptance that your employees are like any others: flawed human beings, capable of a lot and likewise distracted by a lot. Either way, holding them to the same standards as we would some automated alternative is unfair, as I am sure you would agree.
However, and somewhat unfortunately, this often isn’t the impression that employees get from management. Some common complaints from employees are:
- Their workplace lacks communication.
- They have no job security.
- They aren’t paid what they’re worth.
- Credit isn’t given for their hard work.
- Favoritism is alive and well in the workplace.
- Management constantly has them under a microscope.
- They have to deal with managers who are incompetent.
- There’s just too much work to do.
Now, put in a list like this, these don’t look too great, and you may want to shrug them off and assume that they aren’t happening in your company… they almost certainly are.
Having said that, I want you to think back to when you once worked for someone else. How did you feel going in every day? Now look at that list again - some of those line items may have helped motivate you to go into business for yourself.
Let’s face it - entrepreneurship isn’t something that people are really “born to do”...it is a decision that people make, usually after paying their dues and working for other people and seeing ways that they would do things differently (or in their minds, better). Some staff members love working for certain people, and other staff members don’t, occasionally acting on it.
The point of all this: people are people, and as such, there is no single equation for dealing with employees well.
This means that, no matter what you do and what style of management you use, not all employees are going to be a good fit at your company. This means that, along the line, someone was going to feel displeased about their work situation.
Remember, while you should still be doing everything you can to make the work environment as amiable as possible for your employees, some just aren’t going to be a good fit, and may need to be addressed in other ways.
Is It Ethical to Monitor Your Employees? Or... Legal?
At the end of the day, it is important that you realize while payroll can be your greatest investment, it can also be your worst. This means that you need to keep track of how your employees are performing and spending their time in the office, which leads you to the prospect of actually tracking your employees in the workplace.
This opens up a few more questions, starting with the data you are actually collecting. What is it that you are trying to track? Should you keep it simple, monitoring attendance or the number of hours an employee actually spends in the office? Are there different performance indicators that you like to keep updated metrics concerning? Do you want to monitor keystrokes, making sure that they are working diligently throughout the day, or their browsing histories to make sure they aren’t putting your company in jeopardy by visiting sites they shouldn’t be?
This is where things can get a little murky as far as business ethics are concerned. How much do you really need to know, and how much will you collect as collateral data?
As it stands today, employee monitoring software is in high demand, the market growing as more businesses decide to protect themselves against theft by an employee. The consensus seems to be swaying toward the opinion that you can’t trust your employees not to take advantage of you, either by stealing data and other resources, or dishonestly reporting their time.
There is also a lot of license given to businesses in terms of what can legally be done to protect their own assets, especially where an employee’s privacy is concerned. Courts have ruled in some cases that a company can track an employee’s behavior after they have left the confines of the office. Consider the permissions that a user needs to agree to in order to access work-related files on a personal device. There is little to stop the employer from also going through private messages with that access.
So yes, it is currently legal to monitor your employees, which means the decision really falls to you and your conscience. Of course, this may change, or it could just as likely stay the same. Privacy is a contentious subject these days, with no clear indication of how things will turn out when (and if) it is ever settled.
Mindfully Monitoring Employees
One of the hallmarks of employee monitoring is the fact that the monitoring itself is kept about as hidden as the behaviors it is meant to catch. Whether you’re keeping an eye on your surveillance footage, web activity, internal correspondence, or keystrokes, the person being monitored traditionally would only find out if they were told… which isn’t something that companies have traditionally done, either.
I would urge you to actually break from tradition here.
Ethics aside for a moment, it just makes more practical sense to inform your users how their activity is to be monitored. Not only will this transparency help you build and maintain trust amongst your users, but it can also help keep issues from developing in the first place. Think about it - what happens when people realize there’s a patrol car on the highway? They immediately check the speedometer and correct their speed. Transparency has a great way of acting as a deterrent in that way.
You also want to consider the kind of metrics you’re actually collecting before you evaluate your employees based on them. Do the metrics line up with how the employee provides value to the business, and/or the actual value they deliver? Look at it this way - when you’re looking to buy an appliance, like a toaster, you won’t find out how well the toast is browned by measuring the length of the power supply cord. Metrics can be useful tools, but only where they practically apply.
Finally, don’t give up on your employees too quickly. If your monitoring picks up on one of your staff members having a tough time, try addressing the situation as your first option. Sudden downturns in employee productivity are usually caused by something, and that something might be fixable. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t terminate an employee if you need to, just to consider alternatives before diving into the hiring process again and losing what may still be a valuable resource.
What are your feelings on employee monitoring, and using these kinds of solutions? Share your thoughts in the comments section, and check back in with our blog to learn more about optimizing and securing your business’ technology.