The digitalization of work, coupled with the adoption of hybrid and remote work practices, has fostered greater interest in keeping tabs on workplace productivity. However, employee monitoring for the purpose of improving productivity poses ethical challenges and can easily create a toxic work environment.
We spoke with Helen Poitevin, vice president analyst in the Gartner HR practice, to discuss employee productivity monitoring technologies, and how HR can navigate this fast-growing trend. Members of the media who would like to speak with Helen further on this issue can contact Mary Baker.
Q: How has employee productivity monitoring evolved?
A: Employee productivity is not a new discipline. Supervisors in 19th-century factories monitored workers to ensure they were keeping pace. We see this same monitoring today, albeit in a much different fashion.
The COVID-19 pandemic revolutionized the workplace, and today more organizations work remotely or in a hybrid setting, which has further accelerated the desire for many employers to implement employee monitoring practices.
Q: What type of data do employee monitoring technologies collect?
A: Employee productivity monitoring technologies are built to collect data from various sources, including electronic communications, social media presence, location data and productivity tracking.
The biggest challenge is that the concept of “productivity” is highly context specific. Most often, these technologies are detecting time spent on tasks (e.g., monitoring log-in, mouse or keyboard trackers, etc.) and how those tasks vary – which is not a clear indicator of an employee’s performance.
While there are risks, it is possible to use the technology effectively to help improve employee experience and productivity.
Q: How do employees feel about employee productivity monitoring?
A: Though this technology continues to grow in popularity, communications to employees about how they are being monitored have not kept up. A Gartner survey of more than 3,500 employees in April 2021 found that 40% of employees reported that they received no communication from their organization about what productivity data is collected and how it’s being used. Plus, our research shows that even when there is communication on these topics, the quality is poor, resulting in limited employee understanding and awareness of personal data usage.
HR leaders can garner employee buy-in by being more transparent and clearly communicating to employees the different types of personal information they are collecting, why that data is being collected and who has access to that data. They should also communicate when data collection is taking place. For example, most employees believe monitoring is done during business hours. However, some organizations collect data on employee activities outside of business hours.
There’s a clear benefit to transparency for employers – employees who are kept informed about why and how their organizations gather data about them exhibit higher willingness to go above and beyond and higher levels of trust relative to their peers.
Q: With more organizations looking to adopt this type of technology, what is critical for a successful rollout and implementation?
A: As mentioned, organizational change management and communication are perhaps the most critical steps for successful rollout of employee monitoring technology. Understandably, many employees will have initial fears when faced with the rollout, including fearing the technology will impact their reputation, choices, skills or relationships.
It’s also important to note that rolling out employee productivity monitoring is not a low-risk project: a clear strategy is needed for all stakeholders involved. Specifically, compliance and privacy leaders can work with HR partners on three different areas.
First, HR should tailor communication to roles. Some roles, such as customer service representatives, may be subject to more monitoring than others. Rather than sending out a blanket email, HR should be thoughtful and narrow the type of data and convey the specific purpose to employees.
Secondly, HR must consider geographic differences. For example, Gartner research shows that employees based in western Europe are less comfortable with employee monitoring than those in East and South Asia. To get ahead of these differences, HR leaders should be readily available with FAQ documents and consider specialized training for business leaders, should questions arise.
Finally, HR leaders should communicate information through managers. Our research shows employees prefer to receive information from their boss versus someone else in their organization. This signals to employees the information is important and allows managers to contextualize the purpose behind monitoring more easily to their direct reports.
Gartner clients can find more information in the report How to Derive Value From Employee Productivity Monitoring Technologies and How to Communicate Employee Monitoring to Your Associates.
Gartner ReimagineHR Conference
Helen Poitevin will provide more detailed analysis on human capital management technologies during the Gartner ReimagineHR conference. The Gartner ReimagineHR Conference is the premier event for CHROs and HR leaders to learn from the latest research and Gartner experts covering talent acquisition, diversity, equity and inclusion, learning and development, total rewards, talent analytics, and HR technology. Gartner ReimagineHR will be held September 15-16 in London and October 24-26 in Florida. Follow news and updates from these events on Twitter using #GartnerHR.
If you are a member of the media who would like to speak further on these topics with Helen Poitevin, please contact Mary Baker at email@example.com. Members of the media can reference this material in their articles with proper attribution to Gartner.