More than one in 10 workers will try to cheat their way around artificial intelligence-based employee monitoring software by 2023, according to new findings from business intelligence provider Gartner Inc.
In a statement, the firm notes that organisations are now using AI to track staff behaviours in a similar way to how they have used it to analyse and understand consumers.
Typically, employee monitoring tools provide basic activity-logging functions, complete with alerts, while more sophisticated examples can detect either positive actions or patterns of misbehaviour through multivariable analysis.
Previous Gartner research showed that, even prior to the pandemic, workers feared the use of new technologies to track and monitor their work habits. Now, with the tools becoming more prevalent, the firm predicts that organisations will increasingly have to deal with workers who will attempt to evade the systems’ scrutiny.
In particular, it points out, staff may chip away at areas in which:
- metrics do not fully capture activity,
- accountability is unclear, or
- the AI can be fooled through the generation of false or confusing data.
Gartner vice president Whit Andrews said: “Many businesses are making a permanent shift to full- or part-time remote work, which can be both costly and require cultural changes. For management cultures that are accustomed to relying on direct observation of employee behaviour, remote work strengthens the mandate to digitally monitor worker activity – in some cases, via AI.”
Andrews added: “Just as we’ve seen with every technology aimed at restricting its users, workers will quickly discover the gaps … They may do so for a variety of reasons, such as in the interest of lower workloads, better pay or simply spite. Some may even see tricking AI-based monitoring tools as more of a game to be won than disrespecting a metric that management has a right to know.”
Gartner’s research follows recent findings showing that, in June 2020, demand for staff surveillance software was up by 51% compared to pre-pandemic levels. (Top10VPN, 24 June 2020)
Last month, the data-protection commissioner for the German state of Lower Saxony hit computer retailer notebooksbilliger.de with a fine of €10.4m for intrusively filming its workforce. (ITPro.co.uk, 18 January 2021)
And just a few weeks later, a leading tech journal described Amazon’s surveillance of its drivers as having risen to “dystopian heights.” (Interesting Engineering, 9 February 2021)
Are staff monitoring tools necessary signs of the times – or simply triggers for distrust between management and staff?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of brand and marketing Jay Ludditt says: “As the shift to more dispersed workforces accelerates, tech firms will naturally look to develop solutions to problems we may never have thought about previously.
“There's nothing wrong with this. But leaders must consider all the angles: is a tech solution really needed? Or is it purely a shift in their leadership approach that can help to pull things back on track and reinstate a sense of connection with their people?”
Ludditt notes: “The application of technology is also important here. We know the right data can help inform strategy, improve efficiency and highlight discrepancies. But only when viewed holistically can it paint a true picture across an organisation. Narrowing the focus to individual employees runs the risk of bypassing any sense of meaningful relationships, or understanding of personal factors that data alone simply cannot account for.”
He adds: “Employees must feel psychologically safe to discuss with their managers any issues that may be affecting their own performance. In turn, managers must effectively communicate how monitoring tools may be in play to assess companywide performance – and not solely to target individuals from afar.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on managing performance