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Abstract

Employee monitoring has raised concerns from all areas of society – business organizations, employee interest groups, privacy advocates, civil libertarians, lawyers, professional ethicists, and every combination possible. Each advocate has its own rationale for or against employee monitoring whether it be economic, legal, or ethical. However, no matter what the form of reasoning, seven key arguments emerge from the pool of analysis. These arguments have been used equally from all sides of the debate. The purpose of this paper is to examine the seven key arguments that have been made with respect to employee monitoring. None of these arguments is conclusive and each calls for managerial and moral consideration. We conclude that a more comprehensive inquiry with ethical concern at the center is necessary to make further progress on understanding the complexity of employee monitoring. The final section of this paper sketches out how such an inquiry would proceed.
Darden Graduate School of Business Administration
University of Virginia
Working Paper No. 02-07
Some Problems with Employee Monitoring
Kirsten Martin
R. Edward Freeman
This paper can be downloaded without charge from the
Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection at:
http://ssrn.com/abstract_id=348040
Kirsten Martin Page 1 of 22 May 3, 2001
Some Problems with Employee Monitoring
Kirsten Martin
And
R. Edward Freeman
The Darden School
University of Virginia
Contact: Kirsten Martin
2113 Tarleton Dr
Charlottesville, VA 22901
(434) 973-2847
MartinK02@darden.virginia.edu
Kirsten Martin Page 2 of 22 May 3, 2001
Abstract
Employee monitoring has raised concerns from all areas of society – business
organizations, employee interest groups, privacy advocates, civil libertarians, lawyers,
professional ethicists, and every combination possible. Each advocate has its own rationale for
or against employee monitoring whether it be economic, legal, or ethical. However, no matter
what the form of reasoning, seven key arguments emerge from the pool of analysis. These
arguments have been used equally from all sides of the debate. The purpose of this paper is to
examine seven key arguments that have been made with respect to employee monitoring. None
of these arguments are conclusive and each raises important managerial and moral consideration.
We conclude that a more comprehensive inquiry with ethical concern at the center is necessary
to make further progress on understanding the complexity of employee monitoring. The final
section of this paper sketches out how such an inquiry would proceed.
Key Words
Business
Ethics
Technology
Monitoring
Privacy
Employee Monitoring
Introduction
The purpose of this paper is to examine seven key arguments that have been made with
respect to employee monitoring. None of these arguments are conclusive and each raises
important managerial and moral consideration. We conclude that a more comprehensive inquiry
with ethical concern at the center is necessary to make further progress on understanding the
Kirsten Martin Page 3 of 22 May 3, 2001
complexity of employee monitoring. The final section of this paper sketches out how such an
inquiry would proceed.
Arguments
Employee monitoring has raised concerns from all areas of society – business
organizations, employee interest groups, privacy advocates, civil libertarians, lawyers,
professional ethicists, and every combination possible. Each advocate has its own rationale for
or against employee monitoring whether it be economic, legal, or ethical. However, no matter
what the form of reasoning, seven key arguments emerge from the pool of analysis. These
arguments have been used equally from all sides of the debate. None of these arguments are
conclusive and each raises important managerial and moral consideration.
The Productivity Argument
The productivity argument answers the question “does employee monitoring lead to
higher productivity?” The reasoning begins by viewing monitoring both as a productivity and
cost containment tool. First, organizations argue for monitoring as a productivity tool. Many
organizations decide to monitor employees in an attempt to keep the employees’ personal
computer use to a minimum. Surfing the Internet and sending personal e-mails takes up time and
reduces productivity. In 2001, 60.7% of employees surveyed said they visit Web sites or surf for
personal use at work (WebSense, 2001). Every minute spent booking a flight or checking a
stock price is a minute not spent increasing revenue. The computer has usurped gossiping in the
coffee room or talking on the telephone as the leading waste of corporate time.
However, opponents to employee monitoring make the opposite argument. Surveillance
can have a negative impact on productivity. Studies have demonstrated a link between
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monitoring and psychological and physical health problems, increased boredom, high tension,
extreme anxiety, depression, anger, sever fatigue, and musculoskeletal problems (Hartman,
1998). Invasive surveillance and monitoring has also been found to lead at higher levels of stress
and greater incidence of other physical disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome (Privacy Rights,
2001). Further, people under stress are sick more often and heal more slowly, which leads to an
increase in sick leave and a decrease in productivity while at work. Opponents argue that
invasion of privacy can literally make employees sick and may have a counter effect on the
productivity that organizations seek.
Moreover, some view monitoring as a cost containment tool. The cost of
telecommunications is forcing employers to reexamine their Internet use. With personal web
surfing and large e-mails taking up precious bandwidth, many employers are using monitoring as
a cost containment tool. The fewer employees downloading large files and surfing heavy
bandwidth sites (e.g. pornography), the smaller the fiber optic pipe needed to handle the traffic
and therefore the lower the telecommunication expense. Certain software products are designed
for this purpose. For example, SmartFilter from Secure Computing disrupts the actions of the
user by slowing the download of large MP3 files. The goal of the program is to frustrate the user
thereby making such downloads less likely in the future.
The Security Argument
The security argument answers the question “does employee monitoring lead to greater
organizational security?” With a greater reliance on computer systems, information assets are
seen as a vulnerable point of attack by would-be saboteurs. Corporations that do not adequately
secure their systems risk unwanted dissemination, retrieval, or modification of private corporate
Kirsten Martin Page 5 of 22 May 3, 2001
information. One hacker or virus can bring operations to a halt or cause a large public relations
snafu. In such a scenario, proponents argue that monitoring employees protects the safety and
security of the organization and even the nation.
Employers feel increasingly susceptible to security concerns. Disloyal employees are
able to e-mail trade secrets and confidential documents quickly and easily to a large audience. In
fact, most security breaches come from knowledgeable insiders – not random hackers from the
outside (Schulman, 2001). By monitoring Internet usage and content, corporations argue that
they are able to detect and halt security breaches. Plus, the mere knowledge of increased
surveillance may deter potential employee theft.
In addition, many corporations are citing national security issues when determining
electronic monitoring methods. Such corporations (telecommunications, chemical plants, oil &
gas, banks, etc) see themselves as potential targets to terrorist attacks due to their proliferation
and importance in the lives of U.S. citizens. This is not new – many telecommunication switch
sites look more like military bunkers than business assts. However, corporations’ reliance upon
information technology for the maintenance of their assets leaves them particularly vulnerable to
attack by electronic means. Electronic monitoring is another ‘bunker’ to maintain the security of
their organization.
The Liability Argument
The liability argument answers the question “does employee monitoring lessen employer
liability of employee actions?” More than two-thirds of respondents in an AMA survey claim
that concern over lawsuits is very important in the decision to monitor (Swanson, 2001).
Employers find electronic monitoring particularly helpful in combating sexual harassment and
Kirsten Martin Page 6 of 22 May 3, 2001
hostile work environment lawsuits; harassing e-mails and surfed porn sites are often probative in
harassment cases. In fact, as seventy percent of porn traffic occurs during regular business hours
- as calculated by SexTracker, a service that monitors pornography site usage (Conry-Murray,
2001) – it is understandable for proponents to argue for monitoring Internet communication.
Further, employers can no longer wait for the initial complaint; recent court decisions have found
employers responsible for knowing of sexual harassment even without a complaint. As the
burden of rooting out sexual harassment becomes the responsibility of employers, many make a
case for continual surveillance in order to curtail inappropriate behavior before it becomes a
lawsuit.
It is not only sexual harassment; employers have become more concerned about illegal
uploading or downloading of commercial software and other copyrighted material onto corporate
equipment during business hours. In addition, courts are using e-mail message as evidence. In
the U.S. v. Microsoft trial, e-mails that employees thought had been erased were introduced into
evidence against Microsoft. These erased or deleted e-mails were easily found on backup tapes.
In fact, one in ten companies have received a subpoena for employee e-mails and more than
eight percent have defended themselves against e-mail or Internet based sexual harassment
claims (Piazza, 2002). As a result, many companies have begun using monitoring as a risk
management tool in addition to purging back up systems of old e-mails and files (Gilman, 1999).
It is important to note that increased surveillance of Internet and e-mail usage will only
make prosecution of transgressions more difficult – it will not stop the wrong behavior. Hence
the “liability argument” should not be mistaken with a nonexistent “employee security”
argument. Harassment existed before computers and will persist once all computers are
monitored. Further, blaming the embarrassing evidence shown at trial on unmonitored e-mail is
Kirsten Martin Page 7 of 22 May 3, 2001
a bit like blaming Nixon’s transgressions on the tape recorder. The media, not the medium, is to
blame.
The Privacy Argument
The privacy argument seeks to answer the question “does employee monitoring respect
employee privacy?” To answer this question, an understanding of privacy is needed. Privacy is
not a novel issue for employee monitoring in particular or for society in general. Exhaustive
debates as to the nature of privacy have raged on for years. Some argue for the ‘control theory’
where privacy is dictated by the amount of control we have over our own information. Others
argue for the ‘restricted access theory’ where privacy is characterized by the level of access
others have to our information. For example, if a woman were locked in a room, the restricted
access theory would have her in a private situation if an outsider had the key to unlock the door.
The woman would have not absolute control over the door opening and closing but would still
have restricted access and therefore would be in a private situation. The control theory would
find this situation to be a breach of privacy and would dictate that the woman has the only key to
unlock the door in order to ensure a private situation. In such a scenario, she would retain
control of her access. The control theory allows for the woman to open the door, expose her
habits, and still retain her privacy.
In either case, with the advent of data collection and manipulation, information
technology has forced people to rethink their concept of privacy. With complete restriction of
access both unlikely and unwanted (how else would we order books online with just one click?),
the control theory of privacy allows society to determine who has access to what information
without losing their concept of privacy. The user, in this case, would use the restriction of
Kirsten Martin Page 8 of 22 May 3, 2001
access, as a tool to control privacy. The control theory of privacy is also illuminating to the
issues inherent to employee monitoring.
Opponents argue that employee monitoring decreases the amount of control employees
have over their own information through unrestricted access. Even when organizations do not
monitor, but set up the system to facilitate monitoring at any time, a breach of control, and
therefore privacy, has occurred. Control theorists contend that employees realize a loss of
privacy even when organizations simply have the capability and opportunity to monitor
regardless of whether the organization actually uses that monitoring capability. The employer
would have the only key to the woman in the locked room. It is the threat of monitoring that
forces a lack of privacy with a loss of control.
The Creativity Argument
The creativity argument seeks to answer the question “does employee monitoring lead to
greater creativity?” It is hard to imagine living in a world where your every word is recorded for
analysis. To spend ten hours a day knowing that your keystrokes can be monitored for
productivity and your documents analyzed for a psychological profile seems overwhelming.
Opponents of monitoring maintain one could not help but think about the potential implications
of every action to your permanent record. That it might feel as if your employer was looking for
a transgression and waiting to pounce. In such an environment, employers would severely
curtail freethinking, as employees would begin to act and then think in response to the unseen
observer.
New, radical, unconventional ideas may be filtered out of communications if the
employee is constantly worried what the observer may think. But corporations rely upon
Kirsten Martin Page 9 of 22 May 3, 2001
creative, new thinking in order to constantly move forward and improve. In fact, most
companies work hard to form innovative and open teams to foster creative employees and
improved products and services. Innovation only comes from creativity and, it is argued, is in
jeopardy when that creativity is stifled with the even the threat of monitoring.
Further, most corporations have political agendas, moral values, and social norms by
which they live and breathe. Some ask –prod, demand – their employees to give to certain
charitable organizations and to lobby for pertinent legislation. If employers are so upfront as to
their desire for employees to conform to their political and moral stances, opponents are quick to
reason that employees would begin to take such views into consideration when surfing the
internet or sending e-mails when the threat of monitoring exists. Monitored employees would
begin to lose their creativity by conforming to the demonstrated desires of the observer.
The Paternalism Argument
The paternalism argument seeks to answer the question “does employee monitoring lead
to paternalistic expectations?” While some may hearken back to visions of “Big Brother”, a
more appropriate metaphor for employee monitoring may be one of strict parents. The intrusion
on a normatively private situation plus a symbolic lack of trust combine to form a paternalistic
relationship. Opponents argue that the inherent unequal relationship between employer and
employees is exacerbated when trust and privacy are doled out like candy. This relationship can
have tangible effects: Swiss economist Bruno Frey found that monitoring negatively affected
performance by worsening employee morale. The employees tended to see their employers as
having low expectations of them and they then lived down to those expectations (Hartman,
1998). These employees began to act like children with parental expectations.
Kirsten Martin Page 10 of 22 May 3, 2001
This paternalism deepens with the unequal distribution of monitoring. As organizations
dictate their zones of privacy, groups will be placed in different zones through procedures and
rules. With the fragmentation of computer systems, executives may remain immune from
monitoring under the same guise of corporate security used to monitor their employees.
Executives remain on separate computer servers with different rules of monitoring in order to
safeguard corporate strategy and high-level communications. Much like a parent dictates
specific rules only for their children, employers may tend toward disparate and unequal policies
for electronic monitoring.
The effects of electronic monitoring may be more direct than an overall impression of
paternalism. Through the decrease in privacy, monitoring can actually push adults to act more
childlike further exacerbating the parent-child relationship. As children become adults and are
becoming more autonomous, they are afforded increased privacy in accordance to their level of
maturity. While the forward progression to privacy and adulthood is understood, Reiman (1995)
argues for the opposite denigration as a possibility. The deprivation of privacy can inhibit
maturity and keep the observed in a childish state due to a loss of privacy and autonomy. As
such, employees may begin taking on the role of children as their employer decreases their level
of privacy.
The Social Control Argument
The social control argument seeks to answer the question “does employee monitoring
lead to an increase in social control?” Opponents are concerned that monitoring changes the
culture of the broader organization by changing both those employees monitored and those not
monitored through the very threat of surveillance. Further, monitoring changes the way
Kirsten Martin Page 11 of 22 May 3, 2001
individuals act when they are not being watched. And, the argument continues, it is not only the
immediate organization but also our society that is impacted through this invasion of privacy.
Privacy has always been regarded as an important if not crucial right. The privacy of
employees does more than protect information; privacy is so integral to our identity and
autonomy, that it has been argued to be a greater good. Johnson (2001) describes privacy as a
social good fundamental to our society. As such, privacy is good for its own sake and not merely
as a means to protect an individual or to propagate productivity.
It is in this capacity that employee privacy and therefore monitoring garners the concern
of society in general. Surveillance not only stifles creativity, it can actually change the way one
thinks and acts. Opponents maintain that the observed begins to think and act in terms of the
observer. Every action, thought, and word is analyzed before being acted upon for potential
scrutiny by future or current observers. Further, the observer does not even have to exist. The
mere possibility of surveillance can cause people’s actions, thoughts, and eventually, minds to
change.
Jeremy Bentham capitalized on this idea when he proposed the panopticon – a prison
where a ring of inmate cells surround one guard tower high above in the middle (Reiman 1995).
The guard is able to see into every cell, however, due to lighting, the inmates are not able to see
the guard tower. The beauty of such an arrangement, according to Bentham, is that inmates will
change their behavior at the mere threat of a guard’s presence. The guard tower does not need to
be occupied at all times.
Now others (Reiman; Johnson) have applied this idea to modern technology in a social
control argument. For employee monitoring, not only is the physical layout similar (corporate
security watching silently in a centralized, unseen room while employees are being watched from
Kirsten Martin Page 12 of 22 May 3, 2001
their offices), but the concept is also the same. Employers are under no obligation to inform
their employees of any monitoring. As such, employees have no idea if the guardhouse is
occupied and will change their behavior and thoughts at the mere threat of an observer.
Corporations may find this to be a positive side effect. Organizations are striving for risk
and cost management and if employees act in accordance to their social norms, so much the
better. However, this type of social control can be, in Johnson’s word, insidious. The
corporation is exerting an enormous amount of social control that cannot be contained to the
scope of business thinking and actions. In this way, corporations are not only invading our
physical space, they are invading our “private space” (Reiman) where we introduce, entertain,
reflect on, and experiment with new thoughts. By encroaching on our personal intellectual space
through social control, employers’ surveillance is argued to be a form of oppression where the
mere threat of surveillance leads to a lack of autonomy.
Shoshana Zuboff calls this “anticipatory conformity” (Brown, 2000; Zuboff, 1988) where
the norms of authority “become so internalized that the socially desirable response is presented
in anticipation of the demand” (Brown, p. 4). Anticipatory conformity is used to minimize the
chance of unwanted attention by accepting the fact that one is visible. Employees would be
afraid to do the wrong thing and arouse suspicion, and their behavior would conform in
anticipation to the projected desires of their authority. Further, it becomes difficult to
differentiate when one is being monitored and therefore all behaviors eventually become
anticipatory whether under surveillance or not.
No surprisingly, most maintain this social control and lack of autonomy undermines our
democratic society. As Johnson (2001) argues:
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“Democracy is the idea of citizens having the freedom to exercise their autonomy
and in so doing to develop their capacities to do things that have not been thought
of and to be critical. All of this makes for a citizenship that is active and pushing
the world forward progressively. But if the consequences of trying something
new…acting unconventionally are too negative, then there is no doubt that few
citizens will take the risks. Democracy will diminish.”
It is more than the individual employee who is impacted by surveillance. Our society
needs autonomous people to challenge the status quo in order to function as a democracy. We
rely upon new, strange ideas to spur the society to improve, and such counter-cultural ideas
ferment and grow in autonomous people. Opponents maintain that monitored employees begin
to change not only their behaviors but also their thoughts and ideas and therefore lose their
autonomy. They “lose [the] interpersonal core that is [the] source of criticism of convention, of
creativity, of rebellion and renewal” (Reiman, p. 42). As such, they argue, our society is
damaged.
New Inquiry
These seven arguments are used by either side in the employee monitoring debate
interchangeably. However, it is difficult to combat a social control argument with a productivity
argument (although it is done). The efficient organization appears self-serving and ignorant in
comparison to the needs of society. Further, the individual arguments cloud the larger ethical
implications of this new technology. As is often the case, we confuse the new technology with
new moral issues requiring a novel approach or argument. While the situation and circumstances
surrounding a new technology such as employee monitoring may be different, our society’s core
Kirsten Martin Page 14 of 22 May 3, 2001
ethical issues remain the same. We need a more comprehensive approach to thinking about
employee monitoring which incorporates the broad ethical implications to our core moral values.
Philosopher Deborah Johnson sheds light on the impact of new technology on ethics.
Johnson (2001) views new technology as introducing novel behavior but not fundamentally new
ethical issues. Johnson takes a genus-species approach to the issues introduced by new
technology where the ethical issues of computer and information technology are a “new species
of general, or traditional moral issues.” (p. 16). As such, the ethical issues or arguments of
employee monitoring involve the traditional moral concepts with a new behavior introduced by
technology. While employee monitoring may introduce new ways to breach security, waste
time, harass colleagues, and track employees, these have all been issues in the past for
organizations and society. Employee monitoring merely adds a new dimension.
Johnson’s analysis of new technology and its impact on our preexisting moral values
illuminates our first step in taking a more comprehensive approach to analyzing employee
monitoring. Rather than tackling each new behavior argument by argument, we must start with
four key concepts from ethics: self; relationships with others; community; and property. How
does our new technology - employee monitoring - affect each of these key concepts? Where do
our existing ideas and values work and where do they break down?
Our core concepts surrounding self, relationships with others, and community include:
Freedom - Individuals have a right to basic liberties that are compatible with everyone’s
having those liberties. How does employee monitoring affect our basic liberties? If
autonomy is considered a basic liberty, how do we monitor employees without infringing on
their autonomy? How does notification of the manner and breadth of monitoring impact
employee autonomy?
Kirsten Martin Page 15 of 22 May 3, 2001
Privacy – Respect the privacy of individuals so long as there is not large harm at risk. If
privacy encapsulates control of information, how do we monitor employees while
maintaining their sense of control? How does notification impact employees’ sense of
control and privacy? How can we give employees control of their actions and their
information within a monitoring system?
Respect - Treat others as ends in themselves rather than as mere means. Treating others as
mere means entails getting their permission to do so. If monitoring is a productivity or cost
containment tool, are we using our employees as means to an efficient end? If so, have we
asked their permission through full notification?
Responsibility - Individuals are responsible for the effects of their actions on others. What is
the responsibility of management to understand the effects of monitoring on their employees?
Does taking responsibility for the intended and unintended effects change the way we
monitor?
Our core concepts surrounding property include:
Responsibility - People and companies are responsible for the uses of their property. Are
organizations misusing their property by monitoring their employees’ private
communications? If employees are misusing business equipment, how does employee
monitoring assist in holding employees accountable for their responsibilities?
Kirsten Martin Page 16 of 22 May 3, 2001
Use/ownership - People have the right to determine how to use their property. Are
organizations merely exercising their right to protect the use of their property through
employee monitoring?
Voluntary agreement - People may make agreements with others about how to use property
so long as third parties are not harmed. Are employees entering into a voluntary agreement
when using their organization’s property? Do the employees fully understand the extent and
manner of the monitoring when using the property?
Our analysis of employee monitoring in particular and new technology in general allows us
to move from whether to adopt to how to adopt new technology. Business and privacy
organizations may use the individual arguments to argue for or against the adoption of employee
monitoring. However, there comes a time in the development of a new technology when we
need realize how if possible to incorporate the new technology within our existing moral
framework. By asking questions not about legal liability or productivity but concerning our key
concepts of the ethical universe, we are able examine how employee monitoring and existing
societal values can coexist.
A more expansive and comprehensive approach to analyzing employee monitoring must
include a an analysis of our traditional moral concepts of self, relationship with others,
community, and property. Each new technology may impact these core values in novel ways,
but the moral issues at stake remain the same. By stepping back and analyzing employee
monitoring from our traditional moral values we avoid the argument of productivity gains versus
social control or employee versus employer interests. Rather we view how our new technology
Kirsten Martin Page 17 of 22 May 3, 2001
can be incorporated into our existing societal values. We need to ask ourselves “how will this
technology allow us to redescribe ourselves and our communities so that we can contribute to
human flourishing and retain our core social values?”
Future Research Questions
Understanding the values and issues at stake with employee monitoring is step one of a
longer process. Employee monitoring provides the launch pad for an exploration into social
contracts, identity and moral agency, and the general embedded values of technology.
The exploration of privacy plus the related importance of notification naturally leads to a
review of the social contract between employer and employee. Notification allows employees to
be informed when entering into either a concrete or hypothetical contract. As such, lack of
notification comes close to coercion on the part of the employer, as they are not allowing the
employees to make an informed decision. The meaning of contract, consent, and coercion rely
upon full notification of the situation to both parties.
However, employee monitoring is just one technology creating impacting privacy and
social contracts. Agre and Mailloux (1997) argue for specific notification in all cases where
technology may infringe upon the privacy of people. Without explicit communication, people do
not truly understand the ramifications of the technology they are using or adopting. As such,
users do not understand what they are agreeing to. Absent explicit and descriptive notification,
users may err on the side of believing that, “they know everything we do” (Agre and Mailloux).
A higher level of specification allows users to not only fully understand the privacy issues at
stake, but also refrain from making gross exaggerations. Such exaggerations generalize the
issues at hand and allow users to brush off technology’s effect on privacy. If one unjustly
Kirsten Martin Page 18 of 22 May 3, 2001
believes “they know everything we do,” the users will not hesitate to use another technology
with privacy implications as there will be no incremental damage. In order for users to adopt
technologies with full consent, they must be notified of the technology’s true implications.
Notification becomes integral to social contracts with today’s technology in general and with
employee monitoring specifically.
As demonstrated in the effect of privacy on our larger society, privacy and monitoring
usurps a person’s autonomy and can change how the user views themselves. By not only
changing how one acts but also how one thinks, employee monitoring and privacy violations in
general change our identity. William Brown (2000) tackles the role of identity and the privacy
effects of modernity on self-identity in his article “Ontological security, existential anxiety, and
workplace privacy.” In a related vein, the more one loses their identity, the less responsibility
they take for their actions. If one is seen as a cog in a larger wheel, the user will view
themselves as taking on a proportionate level of responsibility for their actions. A similar
situation occurs with large levels of automation where the user relinquishes autonomy to the
system. In the case of monitoring, if the user realizes a diminished sense of self-identity, they
may push their previous accountability and moral agency to the organization that is watching
them. As such, identity and moral agency are impacted by privacy violations and monitoring
policies.
While we understand the concept of monitoring and the issues at stake, there exist values
inherent to the system and not just the concept of monitoring. Monitoring, by its very nature, can
be seen as value-laden. The very fact that employers will track the communications of their
employees places employer knowledge over employee privacy. The choice whether, and
subsequently how, to monitor becomes a value-laden decision. Not only do technologies have
Kirsten Martin Page 19 of 22 May 3, 2001
embedded values, but different systems convey their own values through their features and
functionality.
In determining how to monitor, an organization adapts the technology’s flexible features
to suit their community, norms, and culture. However, these initial flexibilities vanish once the
technology is implemented (Winner, 1986) and decisions in the design phase become all the
more important. With the move to prepackaged monitoring systems, organizations are not in the
position to design their own technology. Instead, businesses choose between an array of systems
and corresponding features already designed. Therefore, the decision of which monitoring
system, and which features, to adopt is value-laden just as the features are value-laden; and
determining which features to adopt is to embrace and/or discard the values of those features.
Understanding the “value-laden-ness” of monitoring and technology in general will lead
one to approach the responsibility of corporations in introducing technology to the public or
adopting technology for the organization. Each technology, including employee monitoring, has
embedded values and the decision to adopt or distribute the technologies is a decision to adopt or
distribute those values.
Kirsten Martin Page 20 of 22 May 3, 2001
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Swanson, Sandra. (2001). “Beware: Employee Monitoring is on the Rise.” Information Week.
August 2001. http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20010816S0010
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... EM is a practice that typically engenders such reactions ( Ravid et al., 2020 ). Monitored employees report feeling coerced ( Anteby & Chan, 2018;Thiel et al., in press ), robbed of their privacy ( Alge, 2001;Martin & Freeman, 2003 ), untrusted ( Weibel et al., 2016;Wells et al., 2007 ), and otherwise, treated unjustly ( Alge, 2001;McNall & Roch, 2009 ). Considering what is known about employee expectations, it is not surprising that many monitored employees are dissatisfied and seek to exit ( Anteby & Chan, 2018;Ravid et al., 2020 ). ...
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Practitioner notes What is currently known? Ethical leadership is a coveted trait in managers because it promotes positive behaviour important to organizational effectiveness. Electronic monitoring has become a popular HR practice as well because it is assumed to also promote positive employee behaviour. Many organisations are currently pursuing an HR agenda of hiring ethical leaders and electronic monitoring, yet oversights in these literature make this a tenuous approach. What this paper adds? Empirical evidence suggesting that many of the benefits of ethical leadership can be undermined by electronic monitoring. Empirical evidence suggesting that electronic monitoring has relational consequences for supervisors and employees where supervisors show ethical leadership. Empirical evidence suggesting that electronic monitoring may have contradictory effects to those advertised by monitoring technology companies. The implications for practitioners: For organizational owners and stewards—in hiring organizational leaders with desirable styles or traits, it is important to also consider the conditions facing leaders. For organizational owners and stewards—implementing an electronic monitoring system should be done on a case‐by‐case basis as it may not be needed under some conditions. For organizational managers—additional efforts may be needed to develop and maintain trust with employees where electronic monitoring is required. For HR managers—it may be important to pay attention to and measure the interactive effects of formal HR practices rather than evaluating them in isolation.
... The potential normalization also creates risks within the working from home environment. On one side, employee monitoring can be deployed to assure productivity, yet much of the theoretical evidence is inconclusive as to the benefits and costs [48,49]. Yet, where there are home environments involved that employees do not wish to show their Zoom background for, it is quite likely that a decision to implement monitoring in home offices would cause controversy. ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth substantial unrest in the ways in which people work and organize. This had led to disconnection, rapid adaptation, work from home, emergence of a new digital industry, and an opportunity to create anew. This chapter provides a position for the future state of work and organizing, drawing on the belongingness hypothesis, to characterize a revised method of human connection that acknowledges unique differences in online connections. It also explores the role that flexibility and working from home have on organizational outcomes, through changing presenteeism, changes in how people develop trust, and how social resources are deployed. Advancing an understanding of this position creates a possible post-pandemic model of work that acknowledges the current climate and the learnings from before that pandemic. Through genuine acknowledgment of the current and past ways of working, it is possible to build a pathway to heighten employee’s sense of belonging and trust. This will support the return to, and evolution of, a form of normality post-pandemic.
... Monitoring behaviors have important interpersonal, managerial, and ethical implications (Martin & Freeman, 2003). For example, workplace monitoring can be viewed as an infringement of employees' privacy which can hinder employee learning and creativity (Acquisti et al., 2015;Bernstein, 2017;Bhave et al., 2020;Thompson et al., 2009). ...
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A wealth of research documents the critical role of trust for social exchange and cooperative behavior. The ability to inspire trust in others can often be elusive, and distrust can have adverse interpersonal and ethical consequences. Drawing from the literature on social hierarchy and interpersonal judgments, the current research explores the predictive role of a structural paradox between high power and low status in identifying the actors most likely to be distrusted and monitored for ethical misconduct. Across four studies and an internal meta-analysis, we found that the structural paradox was associated with distrust-related judgments and behaviors. In Study 1, high power-low status actors were judged as less trustworthy. In Studies 2 and 3, high power-low status actors were sent less money in a trust game, an effect fully mediated by feelings of dislike. Study 4 revealed that high power-low status actors were more likely to be monitored for cheating, an effect partially mediated by trust judgments. These findings contribute to business ethics research by identifying the structural paradox of high power-low status as a salient contextual influence impacting observers’ distrust and monitoring dynamics. Implications for reducing observers’ level of distrust of high power-low status actors are discussed.
... It is common for employers to experience accountability concerns over unsupervised employee conduct (e.g., are employees actually working?). A frequent reaction to these concerns is to increase employee surveillance through employee performance monitoring (Bhave, 2014;Kelly, 2001;Martin & Freeman, 2003;Thiel, MacDougal, & Bagdasarov, 2019). In 2019, it was estimated that 50-60% of the world's largest companies used some form of monitoring technology to track their employees' behaviors (Gartner, 2019). ...
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Organizations have long sought to mitigate risks associated with unsupervised employee conduct (e.g., employee deviance) through employee monitoring, an approach consistent with traditional theorizing. Yet the effectiveness of employee monitoring as a deviance deterrent has been called into question by emerging evidence suggesting that monitored employees may actually engage in higher levels of deviance. To address this critical tension and shed light on why and when monitoring leads to deviance, we draw upon social cognitive theory to examine the self-regulatory consequences of employee monitoring. We theorize that monitoring paradoxically creates conditions for more (not less) deviance by diminishing employees’ sense of agency, thereby facilitating moral disengagement via displacement of responsibility. Integrating fairness heuristic theory, we further argue that overall justice provides a powerful heuristic that mitigates the potential loss of sense of agency associated with monitoring. Accordingly, we suggest that employee perceptions of high justice will attenuate displacement of responsibility and, in turn, deviance. Across a field study and an experimental study, we find converging support for our predictions and rule out alternative explanations. This research provides important theoretical and practical insights into how monitoring can be used effectively without also promoting unintended consequences.
... Large and major corporations, labor advocacy groups, legal experts, liberal activists, academics, economists, professional sociologists, and many others have expressed concerns about performance monitoring. Every critic has their own socioeconomic, constitutional, or moral reasons for or against employee monitoring, also referred to as performance management (Martin & Freeman, 2003). ...
... It is common for employers to experience accountability concerns over unsupervised employee conduct (e.g., are employees actually working?). A frequent reaction to these concerns is to increase employee surveillance through employee performance monitoring (Bhave, 2014;Kelly, 2001;Martin & Freeman, 2003;Thiel, MacDougal, & Bagdasarov, 2019). In 2019, it was estimated that 50-60% of the world's largest companies used some form of monitoring technology to track their employees' behaviors (Gartner, 2019). ...
... EM is a practice that typically engenders such reactions ( Ravid et al., 2020 ). Monitored employees report feeling coerced ( Anteby & Chan, 2018;Thiel et al., in press ), robbed of their privacy ( Alge, 2001;Martin & Freeman, 2003 ), untrusted ( Weibel et al., 2016;Wells et al., 2007 ), and otherwise, treated unjustly ( Alge, 2001;McNall & Roch, 2009 ). Considering what is known about employee expectations, it is not surprising that many monitored employees are dissatisfied and seek to exit ( Anteby & Chan, 2018;Ravid et al., 2020 ). ...
... Employee monitoring is becoming more common in the workplace (Kirsten and Freeman, 2003;Pitesa, 2012;Kiziloglu, 2018). E-monitoring tools offer managers the ability to continuously evaluate and measure their employee's appraisal (Al-Rjoub et al. 2008). ...
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Electronic Monitoring (EM) is becoming prevalent, enabling varied and pervasive monitoring of workplaces. The research design was a set of e-mail surveys. Quantitative data were analyzed using cross-tabulation of data, descriptive and chi-square tests statistics. The study provides an overview of e-worker monitoring in five countries. Twenty percent of respondents believe that their organization uses employee monitoring software to track their activities. Almost half of the e-workers believe that their activities are not being tracked by software. Nearby 1/10 of the face-to-display workers surveyed would trust their employer more using EM. Four-fifths of e-workers state that EM affects their productivity. Presented data emphasizes that companies using face-to-display workers monitoring software can negatively affect morale and productivity instead of producing better work. Further, employees are often unfamiliar with whether or not there is monitoring software tracking their activities. The study recommends that organizations should inform its employees before implementation of EM system to facilitate their positive attitudes
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The relationship of workers to management has traditionally been one of control. However, the introduction of increasingly sophisticated technology as a means of supervision in the modern workplace has dramatically altered the contours of this relationship, giving workers much less privacy and making workers much more visible than previously possible. The purpose of this paper is to examine the current state of technological control of workers and how it has altered the relationship of worker to organization, through the impact upon self as perceived by the worker.
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Employers have a number of reasons to consider monitoring employee email—more than two million of them, if you ask Chevron Corporation. Recently, the San Francisco-based oil company was required to pay four plaintiffs a total of $2.2 million after their attorneys found email evidence of sexual harassment. The attorneys had found a smoking gun when they located, on Chevron's own email server, an email message that had been sent to a number of people within the company containing a list of jokes about “why beer is better than women.” Had Chevron been monitoring its employees' email, it might have seen the problem coming.
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Broad coalitions of companies, governments, and research institutions in several countries are currently designing massive electronic infrastructures for their roadways. Known collectively as intelligent vehicle-highway systems (IVHS), these technologies are intended to ease toll collection and commercial vehicle regulation, provide drivers with route and traffic information, improve safety and ultimately support fully automated vehicles. Although many aspects of IVHS are uncertain, some proposed designs require the system to collect vast amounts of data on individuals' travel patterns, thus raising the potential for severe invasions of privacy. To make social choices about IVHS, it is necessary to reason about potentials for authoritarian uses of an IVHS infrastructure in the hypothetical future. Yet such reasoning is difficult, often veering towards Utopian or dystopian extremes. To help anchor the privacy debate, places IVHS privacy concerns in an institutional context, offering conceptual frameworks to discuss the potential interactions between IVHS technologies and the computer design profession, standards-setting bodies, marketing organizations, the legal system and government administrative agencies.
Beware: Employee Monitoring is on the Rise://www.informationweek.com/ story/IWK20010816S0010
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