Diane Dimond: Office surveillance: Are you a target?
Is your boss spying on you? There’s a good chance. These days employers are monitoring their workers in all sorts of ways you might never have thought about.
Your employer can look back at anything you’ve done on your office computer, checking what websites were visited, what was written in interoffice emails and they can even capture keystrokes to see what was typed on outside sites such as your personal email, Facebook or Twitter. If they are the snoopy-snoop type they’re probably already watching your social media output anyway.
Management can also monitor the time spent on a desk phone and the numbers called. They can listen to worker’s voicemails, even the deleted ones. And if you drive a company car or use a business cell phone, the boss can tell via built-in GPS systems where you are at any given time and how long you linger.
Supervisors may say the surveillance cameras in your workplace are watching for consumer theft, sabotage or vandalism. But they also capture employees’ performance, conversations with customers and with each other. Grouse about the person in charge and run the risk that a supervisor is listening or may hear the conversation later on playback.
You may think, “Well, my boss would never do any of that.” You sure about that?
The American Management Association conducts surveys about this kind of activity and reports that 66 percent of the small, medium and large companies responding admitted they monitor employee’s Internet use. Forty-fivepercent log workers’ keystrokes and automation can recreate what was written. Forty-three percent track their staffs’ emails.
Undercover employer monitoring is widespread. It just makes good business sense if you stop and think about it — for the company and for you.
Supermarket devices clock how fast cashiers scan groceries. So, guess who gets the raise come evaluation time? The best performers, that’s who.
Some hospitals require nurses to wear a special badge that registers how often they wash their hands.
When the boss disciplines a lax hand washer, employees spread the word and the result is a healthier environment for patients.
A point-of-sale computer system at a restaurant can log more information than just a customer order or their credit card number. It can also keep track of how often a server steers a customer to the special of the day. Again, this is data that could be used to reward the most enthusiastic employees.
But you might wonder if all this surveillance is legal. Yes, it is. Privacy on the job is almost nonexistent, so keep that in mind. The only place recording devices are forbidden is in a locker room, restroom or in areas where union business is being discussed.
Only Delaware and Connecticut require employers to tell workers that they are subject to surveillance. But the aforementioned AMA survey discovered a majority of companies, nationwide, do inform their employees about their monitoring policies.
Myrna Arias, 36, of Bakersfield, California, was told when she took a sales executive job with the international wire-transfer service Intermex that her movements would be monitored. She was instructed to download an app on her company phone that kept track of her whereabouts. In a lawsuit she filed a few months ago, Arias claims she became uncomfortable with the 24/7 monitoring after her direct supervisor joked that he knew how fast she was driving on any given day. Arias claims she was not allowed to turn off her phone after hours, so she disabled the app and was fired. Now she wants $500,000 for invasion of privacy, wrongful termination and lost wages.
Ms. Arias’ test case could change the employer-employee surveillance dynamic, but it seems unlikely she will change the status quo.
In the meantime, businesses determined to weed out slackers and get the most from their staff continue to explore their options. There’s no dearth of think tanks and private firms studying what makes a single employee or group of employees more productive.
Sociometric Solutions of Boston is currently testing a new kind of employee ID badge at some 20 different companies. The badge helps gather data on how employees interact with each other. Among other things, they discovered that something as simple as a shared 15-minute coffee break not only fostered better staff interaction, but also increased productivity and made employees 70 percent less likely to quit.
As creepy as the boss spying on you sounds, in the end, it is not against the law and it could make for a much more enjoyable place to work.