IT staffers would help colleagues avoid monitoring software

The use of invasive monitoring software that tracks employee productivity is unlikely to become popular with workers — and it turns out IT staffers aren’t keen on deploying the technology either.

In fact, many IT workers are apparently willing to defy company policy and help colleagues find workarounds to avoid being spied on by the boss. That’s according to a survey of 500 IT managers and 500 non-manager IT workers in the US conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of digital employee experience software vendor 1E. The survey results were made public last week.

Almost three quarters of IT managers (72%) surveyed said they’d defy company policy to help co-workers dodge a corporate monitoring application.

“It just demonstrates that there’s a real question mark about the value of deploying that type of technology,” said 1E CEO Mark Banfield. “If the teams buying the software and deploying it are actively working against it, then that tells you it’s not a good approach.”

While workers such as truck drivers and warehouse workers have faced digital surveillance for years, tools that monitor office workers have become more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shift to remote work. This includes monitoring apps that track workers via key logging and video recording, although the level of invasiveness can vary greatly among the tools. A 2021 study by a nonprofit worker rights group highlighted 130 applications that let employers track worker activity and productivity; various workers’ rights groups have criticized their use.

The 1E report highlighted the downsides of using such tools. It showed that 87% of IT managers and 84% of IT workers had seen negative impacts on monitored employees when deploying surveillance software, with a rise in worker anxiety; lower trust, morale, and loyalty; and more people quitting their jobs.

While much of the discussion around monitoring tends to center on employees actually being tracked, the effects on IT teams tasked with tracking colleagues have been generally overlooked.

According to the 1E results, almost half of IT workers surveyed (46%) said they would experience more anxiety if required to deploy systems that monitor colleagues — with whom they may have formed personal relationships — than they would when monitored themselves.

“If you’re in IT and know that you are deploying a monitoring tool, are you at least partially responsible if that employee gets fired for not working hard enough?” said Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates. “The whole issue of monitoring is a privacy concern, and if I’m an IT worker, do I want to share responsibility for the negative consequences that might result to individual employees, some of whom I know or are friends with?

“That’s not what I signed up for as an IT person,” Gold said. “That’s the manager’s job, who probably is making a lot more than I am.”

The presence of monitoring tools could also make it difficult to attract and retain IT workers, 1E found, with 48% of IT workers saying they’d turn down a job at a company using monitoring tools.

The business could face pushback from IT staff, too. A quarter (27%) of IT workers and a third (33%) of managers would raise concerns with leadership before following an order to roll out monitoring tools. Some (8% of IT managers and 5% of IT workers) would refuse to deploy the technology at all.

Deploying software that monitors co-workers is generally at odds with the values ​​held by IT professionals, said Banfield.

“There’s a sense of integrity; being asked to spy on employees is perhaps not what an IT worker wants to do,” he said. “For a long time, IT was seen as in the back office; these days it’s front and center, and part of the business strategy. I think that IT workers are looking to add value, so if you are asked to deploy software in the background that’s spying on people’s behaviors and what they’re doing with their day, I don’t think that’s satisfying for IT workers.”

There is some level of acceptance among IT pros that employees will be monitored, however. Two-thirds (67%) of IT managers and workers agree that it’s appropriate for a business to monitor what employees are doing on company time.

That, Banfield said, could reflect the realization that employee monitoring is sometimes necessary. “Maybe that’s just their view that, ‘This is a top-down initiative, it comes from the board and therefore I have to be okay with it,’” he said.

There are also times when monitoring tools can be helpful, whether for safety or to protect highly sensitive data, for example. Monitoring tools can also help improve employee experience and well-being, provided employees are consulted on their use and monitoring isn’t excessive.

Gold said there are circumstances when tracking can be beneficial for a business, and even for workers themselves. “If you use the tools in an anonymized fashion that looks like a big picture (no individual workers identified), then it can be very useful in finding bottlenecks and/or bad apps that hinder user productivity,” said Gold.

However, he advises caution for any business considering the idea.

“The bottom line is, work monitoring tools should be used sparingly, and only in those situations where it makes sense to know that a worker is indeed at their post (eg, customer service lines where you need to be responsive to customer calls) ,” said Gold.

“It is not a general-purpose productivity enhancement strategy, and you may even be exposing the company to lawsuits, etc., especially if you don’t make employees aware of the use of the tools. I am not a big fan, except in the rare instances where you need to assure people are in place for very specific reasons.”

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.