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Employee Monitoring Advantages and Disadvantages

written by: •edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/22/2011

While defending Farmville visits on company time and bandwidth is a tough sell privacy and morale mean there's much to consider on the topic of employee monitoring.

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    Employee Monitoring

    Monitoring your employees can have both positive and negative effects. While it can cut back on employee misuse of company resources, there’s also the issue of employee mistrust. An overzealous manager’s monitoring system could create a Big Brother scenario that could anger employees and create a hostile work environment. Either way you look at it, there must be limits placed on how much the Internet is used at work.

    First and foremost, if your company makes Internet access available to employees, then those employees should be required to read and sign some kind of acceptable use policy that states what they can and cannot do online with company computers. I once worked for a smaller company that didn’t have one, and when we started finding pornography on the computers, we didn’t have any kind of policy in place to punish the people downloading it. That changed very quickly when my boss presented his boss with a disk full of some very disgusting pictures that we’d collected from company computers.

    There are plenty of legitimate reasons to monitor your employee’s Internet usage. In fact, a former co-worker of mine was recently fired from their job because of inappropriate web use. A friend of this person was already under investigation for something else, so their email was being monitored. When my co-worker began discussing doing taxes online with this person, the HR department started looking into that person’s work, too. Both of them ended up being fired.

    There is also a negative side to employee monitoring. What if you have a problem with your boss and need to go over their head? That wouldn’t be such an uncommon thing. However, how would you discreetly complain about your boss if your boss is keeping tabs on everything you do and reading all your email? In such a case, the employee would feel cornered and powerless. I’ve seen it happen. It’s like the boss knew they had the power over the employee to stop them from easily communicating with upper management.

    I readily admit that I check my personal email while at work. I don’t spend a lot of time in it, but I do check for new messages. When I am at home, I also check my work email. I don’t check my work email from home nearly as much as I check my personal email from work, but it still works both ways. In fact, just recently I was out sick and spent some time at home answering emails that had been sent directly to me instead of my department’s group email. The point I am trying to make is that a lot of people do work-related things while at home, when they’re off the clock, and this should be taken into consideration.

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    When it comes to monitoring your employees, fairness is also a big issue. For example, I am not a smoker. Many of the people that work under my employer are smokers. Given the number of smoke breaks those heavy smokers take a day, I’d estimate that time to add up to as much as 30-40 minutes per day, spent outside and away from their desks and phone. With me not being a smoker, is it fair to me that I don’t get that extra time in breaks? If I’m surfing the web, I am still at my desk able to answer the phone. That’s better than not being there at all. What about employees spending time talking on personal cell phones and sending text messages? Many phones also have Internet access on them, but how would you monitor that?

    Another thing to consider in regard to monitoring employees is who gets the task of actually doing the monitoring. It will require work from the IT department, or whoever does the computers, to set up logs for keeping track of web usage. If you want some kind of keylogging software installed, this also requires extra work. Does this job go to department managers? If so, what if that department manager is part of the problem? How high up the corporate ladder do you have to place this monitor in order to make it fair? Many factors must be considered before jumping into a heavy handed monitoring policy.

    In my opinion, I think a carefully worded Internet usage policy combined with a strict punishment system is better than constantly keeping tabs on your employees. Having actually worked in a Big Brother type environment, I can personally attest to the attitude it creates among employees and the way it contributes to the company’s rather high turnover rate. If employees are spending too much time on the Internet, then I would first consider that a management issue. If those employees are playing on the web because they have too much free time, then Internet usage may not be your only problem.