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Big Brother is watching you (probably).

If you are an employer you can gather an impressive amount of data on your employees using tracking software. It is not unusual for employers to monitor employees’ computers or smartphones, but most of us don’t think about this during our working day, spending time in the office reading personal emails, updating Facebook or even checking out other employment opportunities.

Programmes like ActivTrak let you know what websites your employees frequent at work, TeleNav Track, an organizational tracking system, lets you monitor and manage remote employees from afar and get a detailed understanding of behaviour and a clearer sense of strengths and problem areas within your business. However, these tools come with the potential risks of violating employee privacy, or creating a culture of paranoia.

Ben Waber, CEO of data collection firm, Sociometric Solutions, says there are definite upsides to knowing what your employees are up to. Sociometrics uses RFID chips embedded in ID badges to track employee behaviour, collecting data on everything from employee location, to the type of interactions they have with each other.

The company’s chips know where employees go on their breaks, with whom they interact in the office, even how they speak to co-workers and colleagues. The chips don’t record conversations, but they do live-stream tones and intonations, which are then interpreted by Sociometrics software.

One Sociometric client discovered that team members who encountered one another accidentally on breaks, returned to their desks feeling more socially connected and were subsequently more productive, completing tasks 25% quicker than before. As a result, the company decided to schedule regular breaks when team members could all socialize together.

There is an old saying; “Locks are for honest people”, because most crooks can bypass them and management due diligence, using accounting methods, is also for honest people. Employers can and should use accounting mechanisms at times, but without probable cause, they could be headed for trouble.

Sometimes employers install keylogging programmes that record every keystroke you use on your computer, letting them see everything you are typing, including your passwords, a fairly intrusive practice.

Many companies have written policies stating the company can monitor your email. If the computer system belongs to the company, it can monitor employee communications, even if you use a personal email address; so if you are sending inappropriate messages or   confidential information, you will probably get busted.

Your employer is almost certainly monitoring your internet usage, so, if you are checking out porn sites, YouTube or Facebook, your employer will know about it and you may be violating a company internet usage policy. If you are not working the hours you are paid for, you may well be disciplined for your internet usage. It is also a given that your social media usage will be monitored.

Andrea Bonior is a clinical psychologist and blogger for Psychology Today. She says there are many workplaces that have cameras set up, but it’s rare in an office setting. They are more likely to be found in factories where companies are trying to gauge productivity.

She says: “Certain corporations are very paranoid about what kind of intellectual property they might lose”, but that for a lot of companies, spying is just about the bottom line. “Companies are very concerned with wasting time. A lot of companies justify it by saying we don’t have that much money. It’s either lay people off or increase efficiency.”

Video surveillance is generally legal, but must be used for a reasonable purpose, such as preventing theft, or maintaining security. In many cases employees will not know they are being filmed. Video equipment in the bathrooms is a definite no-no.

Audio surveillance, however, is a different matter. It is illegal to record oral communication in a surreptitious manner without consent. Any recording must be done for legitimate business purposes, such as customer services, and if your bosses are recording you, you probably signed a consent form on joining.

If you are texting to or from a company device, using  a company vehicle with a GPS, need to swipe a badge or enter a passcode, to enter your workplace, you had better believe your employer is watching; there is no secrecy when using their property.

Some companies, particularly American ones, may fire you for certain legal off-duty conduct, such as using medical marijuana purchased legally, drinking alcohol, moonlighting, or smoking.

Basically, employees should beware; Big Brother is definitely watching you. The process should be reciprocal though, meaning employers should put their policies in writing; even if their actions are legal, it is important to have a written policy, accompanied by signed employee agreements, which clearly communicate to employees that they are being, or can be, monitored.

Mark Jaffe, president of Wyatt & Jaffe, an executive search firm, says: “There is no more employee loyalty. Employees are not loyal to the companies they work for and employers don’t feel the sense of a long-term relationship with the employees. The tough job market has prompted people to stay in jobs longer and take ones they normally wouldn’t, creating an environment of unsatisfied workers, which isn’t lost on the employer. Companies feel they need to guard against duplicity, wrong doing or disloyalty.”

If you work for a company that you think is spying on you, make sure you moderate your behaviour; don’t send personal emails from your company account, don’t spend hours checking Facebook or playing Angry Birds. If you need to conduct non-related work during office hours, do it on your own smartphone or tablet.

Jaffe says: “Recognise that you are in a fish bowl. The boss has every justification for looking at what’s on his property.”

Nigel Phillips




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