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Monitoring Your Staff’s Online Activity – is it Legal or Moral?

Monitoring Your Staff’s Online Activity – is it Legal or Moral?

Employers are continually scrutinised and more policies placed on them (and employees) to ensure that employees are protected.  This is (rightfully) good news for employees as it helps to stop unfair treatment in the workplace. However, this can have an adverse effect in that (in certain cases) the employee can abuse this system with very little the employer can do about it. The question to ask, is there anything you can do as an employer to ensure YOU are not being treated unfairly? Many employer’s or companies have taken to monitoring online activity, this can be ranging from general social media sweeps ensuring that employees are not portraying a negative image of the company (or employer) to checking the history on your computer to make sure you are not wasting company time on personal pursuits. This can lead to two key implications; is it legal and is it moral?

Is It Legal?

Monitoring is legal, in fact, there is software available (i.e. Teramind) which can calculate all areas of a business to see where time is wasted,

where the best productivity comes from etc. Importantly it also monitors online activity such as what sites have been visited and how much time has been spent on them. Monitoring software covers a range of online monitoring, not just sites. The software will monitor social media, which can state how much time of a working day has been spent using social sites, the software will also monitor emails. This can be handy for an employee as it will monitor where emails are going i.e. how often they are or are not being sent to people involved with the company in some way, shape or form. Another way in which monitoring can be made easier is site blocking. Each year, more and more companies are using online tools to bock sites, and, not surprisingly, Facebook tends to be one of the first sites on the chopping block. Blocking certain sites can help push productivity up as and reduce the need for site monitoring, however, it can also lead to a demotivated workforce.

Is it Moral?

This is a bigger question than ‘is it legal’? Asking if it is legal is at least a yes or no question, asking if it is moral is about how you feel doing it and how it will affect your staff. Everyone is different, a CEO who believes everyone’s sole purpose is to improve the efficiency and reputation of the company may have no issue in enforcing monitoring and site blocking where as a CEO who wants their workers to be happy and have a good personal relationship may struggle to justify doing this. The key aspect is to look at how employees take it. Research (and let’s be fair, common sense) shows that when employees have a bit of leeway (or a mini break as it were) in their jobs, they will tend to be more productive. For example, Social Media is ever on people’s mind and being allowed to use this in the workplace often helps to break up the norm of the day leading to employees feeling happier, more productive and having a less hostile (due to pressure) work environment. Blocking sites like this can lead to frustration and unhappiness but monitoring its usage can ensure this privilege is not taken for granted. The other moral aspect is privacy. Employees may regard monitoring as a breach of privacy or ‘spying’. To a degree, this is true, you are directly following what they search and what online activity they get up to, but as a business (and employer) you do have a right to ensure that company policies are adhered to and that an employee is doing the job that they are being paid for. The idea of ‘a breach of privacy’ is a bit farfetched when there is no personal gain and the employee is being monitored on a personal level, only for data that the company can use to ensure maximum productivity. A further thought for any company is security. Allowing staff monitoring allows the monitoring of any security breaches that could happen. For example, if a bank had a security breach, staff monitoring would allow the company to find the source of the breach. Not only is this beneficial, but it would in the customers best interests to ensure the threat is neutralised and measures can be taken so this doesn’t happen again. This shows a positive way in which staff monitoring is often a great operation to have.

How Should I Go Forward?

The inevitable choice is always down to you but it’s all about balance. In our current age, employees need to be looked after, made to feel appreciated and themselves not be taken for granted. Outright blocking of sites and restricting what people can do will generally only lead to mistrust, unhappiness, low productivity and eventually a higher staff turnover. Quite often, a little bit of inactivity, in this case employees using work time to scroll through social media, can create better productivity in the long-term due to general happiness. Directly in contrast, having no access to anything and being constantly ‘pushed’ for productivity will often result in employees feeling neglected and unhappy which will always have an adverse effect on moral and, in turn, productivity. Online Monitoring will generally always be accepted especially on the grounds of helping productivity, just always be wary of keeping people happy and be wary of crossing into the realms of employee’s privacy.