I’m a fan of data. I proudly brand myself a data geek. And I love workforce management. I think tools that make us more efficient, while also helping us improve the experience of our staff and managers, that also help us gather data to improve business results, are important and powerful. But there’s a line at which the hair on the back of my neck raises, as we move from “that’s amazing” to “ok, that’s a little creepy.”
A recent Boston Globe article about cyber surveillance at work got me thinking about that line. Is it moving? Should it? The article tried to paint a balanced picture, pointing out examples where tracking tools helped get a wayward coder back on track. But I have to wonder if helping employees who struggle to collaborate is really the motivation behind the exponential growth of the employee monitoring market, predicted to double within four years according to sources in the article.
Most mainstream HCM and workforce management vendors would certainly not consider themselves to be suppliers of surveillance tools. But with geolocation functionality tied to the ability to punch in and out of work on a mobile device, and other similar features, they are starting to gather much richer and more detailed information about worker habits than ever before. HR leaders need to help their organizations be thoughtful about how this information is used, and how it’s communicated to employees. “Hey, now you can clock in on your phone!” Amazing. “And, we can track exactly what time you started that site visit, the latitude and longitude of where you punched out for lunch, and how many minutes you spaced out watching House of Cards during that conference call.” Not out of the realm of information an employer should care about, but possibly heading towards creepy.
As a leader, I prefer to default to trusting my team. I’ve told everyone who’s worked for me, I don’t want to have to care what you’re doing or where you’re doing it. Be accessible and follow through on your commitments and I won’t worry about it. But if the results start slipping, we have to have a different conversation. Mostly this has worked, although I have had to be more diligent about where, when, and what an employee was doing at certain times, when performance became an issue. I realize that for many jobs, this kind of approach isn’t realistic. Having tools that help give managers information to make better decisions and improve visibility into work habits can be very useful. Workforce management that helps keep us on task, improve productivity, and improve performance is a good thing. As work gets more distributed, and we see more telecommuting and virtual workers, the temptation for cyber surveillance of workers may be strong. But the slippery slope of workforce micromanagement is a realm we need to watch closely so it doesn’t cross the line from feedback tool to automated tattletale. Hopefully by building trust and commitment, employee monitoring tools become less necessary, or at least are framed with appropriate employee communication. Because nobody wants to be that creepy.