Disturbing revelations of our surveillance culture’s effects on staff have emerged from the TUC’s 17 August report I’ll Be Watching You. 
According to background research, 56% of UK workers believe that they are currently being monitored by their bosses through electronic means. Meanwhile, case studies compiled for a press release announcing the report’s publication reveal the obsessive lengths to which employers are prepared to go in order to keep tabs on their staff.
In one, a haulier named Trevor claims that his firm’s use of technology to track its vehicles’ locations has mushroomed into “live data streaming of every aspect of his driving”, including “in-cab cameras constantly watching drivers, even if they have a break”.
The case study notes: “It’s not just clear problems that are watched for, like using a mobile while driving or not having a seatbelt on. The company has declared a raft of activities as ‘gross misconduct’, including drinking from a water bottle. Drivers are only allowed to take a break from driving every three to four hours.
“And while driving their every movement is under intense scrutiny. They are controlled by a computer that always assumes a best-case scenario and does not allow for sensible reactions to things that can change.”
In the report itself, construction worker Barry says: “I’ve taken jobs where we don’t use a sign-in sheet. Instead, they take our fingerprint. It skips a process, but I feel like it’s an invasion of privacy.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady says: “Employers must not use tech to control and micromanage their staff.” In her view, tracking workers’ movements not only creates fear and distrust, but undermines morale, too. She adds: “New technologies should not be used to whittle away our right to privacy, even when we’re at work. Employers should discuss and agree workplace monitoring policies with their workforces – not impose them upon them.” O’Grady argues that “the law needs to change … so that workers are better protected against excessive and intrusive surveillance”.
Is O’Grady right, or are there scenarios in which it is reasonable for employers to electronically monitor staff?
Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “What we’re really talking about here is trust. From an individual employee’s perspective, the question this research provokes is: do you really want to work for an organisation that doesn’t trust you?
“From the employer’s point of view, meanwhile, if you have to monitor people very closely because you don’t trust them to do what’s expected of them, what does that say about the policies and procedures you’ve devised for your recruitment efforts?”
Cooper notes: “another key issue here is transparency. We have the ability to gather so much data about our people, and once it’s been collected it can be used for either positive or negative purposes. Transparency is key to ensuring that positive uses prevail. Plus, if you throw your hat in the ring for a job, and it’s made clear to you that being monitored is one of the conditions of employment, that will help you to decide whether or not you want to maintain your candidacy for that job.”
She adds: “at a time when we have a large number of jobs available, candidates have much more choice than they’ve had in recent years. That gives them the power to say, ‘No – I don’t want to work for an organisation that’s going to scrutinise me in that fashion.’ So it has to be made clear that those sorts of practices are in place. But in the end, if they are, that will only reflect the thinking behind your recruitment strategy.”
For further thoughts and insights on building trust, check out these learning resources from the Institute
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- 17 September 2018