Posted on August 9th, 2011 by Rick Janowski | Permalink | View All Entries

The biggest concern employees should have is not whether their communication is being monitored – that is a fait accompli for today’s largest businesses. The greater concern is whether that communication is monitored appropriately and accurately so as to protect both employer and employee from a variety of risks, while minimizing any invasions of privacy. Even smaller businesses are starting to monitor their employees, as one really bad apple employee can literally take down a smaller business. And, occasionally, a larger one, as happened with Barings Bank.

Given the stakes involved, here are six top reasons why employees would want their communications monitored.

  1. If you’ve got nothing to hide, don’t hide anything. Most of us will say all kinds of things on our cell phone while in our cubicle, but cringe at the idea of our electronic communications being monitored. Yet the people in cubes near you likely will hear the cell phone conversation, while it is highly unlikely that a human ever reads any of your email. The reality is that human nature remains the same regardless of the technology. If you are a good co-worker while you are walking the hallways, you are probably also a good online citizen. However, online, if one employee is monitored, every employee is monitored. That brings a level of transparency and accountability that in the best case permeates an entire company culture. Think of the simple example of one person’s willingness to complain about another employee’s behavior. Individuals don’t want to be seen as whiny, thin-skinned, or petty. In this case, even the idea of monitoring may serve to reduce such less-than-ideal behavior.
  2. There is a lot of good information to be garnered from monitoring communication. It’s not just a question of who may or may not be harassing another employee, or trading in on company secrets. Good monitoring solutions can also help to objectively determine worker productivity-related metrics such as who is passing the electronic buck, so to speak, and who actually gets the job done. If you are a good employee, you want that information known and you want your HR department to have that information at their disposal.
  3. Even the best of us have bad days and even weeks. Even a model employee going through a divorce or other very stressful personal event, for example, might need closer scrutiny. The goal here is not to pick on one individual while he or she is down, but to provide a safety net for someone who might be prone temporarily to making bad decisions or being less diligent than they normally would be.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Honestly, employers don’t care if you are checking your Facebook page or making dental appointments while you are at the office. They are far less interested in whether you are using George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words, than they are in whether you are engaged in insider trading or other substantial crimes and misdemeanors. Another point that is often overlooked is that just as employees don’t want their employer to necessarily know everything about their personal lives, in various ways employers really don’t want to know some of these things either. For example, the more details an employer has about the personal details of their employees, such as their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or health issues, the more they create potential liabilities for themselves.
  5. Truth and lies. Businesses today are expected to have an extensive electronic paper trail. Can you imagine serving on a jury on a case involving workplace harassment where the employer in question couldn’t produce email evidence? Thanks to Law and Order, CSI, and endless courtroom dramas, it’s become understood that this information should be available. This evidence protects employees against unfair office gossip and provides the electronic bread crumbs necessary for any case that winds up in court. And the reality is that businesses are legally liable for employee behavior, at least when that behavior occurs with the business’s equipment. Without an electronic paper trail today’s businesses are working without a legal and financial safety net, and that’s bad for the business and bad for the employees who depend on the business for their livelihoods.
  6. More and more employees work from home or remotely, requiring adjustments in management techniques. Work-shifting is a growing phenomenon as businesses look to save money and provide a more flexible working environment for their employees. The ability of a company or an individual manager to rely on old-fashioned MBWA (Management by Wandering Around) practically disappears. How do you truly measure productivity, particular when someone is working remotely? How does a manager replace the kind of “water cooler” management style that has been in place for years? At least some level of protective monitoring helps to replace the basic kinds of feedback that managers are used to having readily available, whether that is seeing an employee with a runny nose and concluding they have a cold or seeing a normally calm person pacing around their office and inferring that they are having some kind of issue. Such knowledge helps managers make better decisions in the day-to-day management of their employees.

I realize that most individuals’ first instinct is to balk at the idea of having their communications monitored. Consider the points above to be a counter to that same individual’s first reaction upon hearing that their employer has implemented a system to protect itself from insider trading, IP theft, sexual harassment, and countless other scenarios.

Consider, also, that between video surveillance at your favorite retail outlet, the cameras snapping away at your car as it runs a yellow light, the extrapolations going on right now based on your credit card purchases, or your latest Facebook check-in, an individual’s life is already under the electronic microscope. It’s no longer a question of whether monitoring of employee communication will reach the mainstream, it’s now a question of making sure that its implementation is done properly.