Big brother employers: what to consider before you implement tracking technologies in your workplace
*Please note that Roubler does not offer products or services that include GPS or fingerprint/biometric detail capture technology.
Tracking your employee’s work and attendance is an undeniably important part of managing an effective workforce. But with the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated software employers may be in danger of taking their monitoring efforts too far, encroaching on worker’s rights and damaging valuable workplace relationships.
Tracking employee’s attendance at work is nothing new – people have been clocking in and out since the beginning of the industrial revolution. But with the rise in time and attendance (or timesheet) software and plug in applications on computers that allow employers to see exactly what an employee is working on and when, the line between tracking work for the purposes of productivity and payroll, and a breach of privacy and trust is becoming increasingly blurred.
In a recent ruling (July 2018), the Australian Fair Work Commission cleared the way for Canon to install GPS tracking devices on company-issued mobile phones used by their field support technicians. Canon claim it is to provide better support to their technicians and more detailed service information for customers by understanding where their technicians are located at any one time. They stated in the case that the technology will be used in accordance with a transparent policy and current legislation but struggled to ensure it met the requirements of their enterprise Agreement (EA). In a more extreme case, the Chicago Tribune reported that Amazon won patents for wristbands that can track their Illinois warehouse staff’s hand movements and correct them with vibrations if they place an item in the wrong bin in a bid to further decrease order fulfillment times. It certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “Watching your every move.”
The use of these types of physical monitoring raises several concerns about how such surveillance may affect employee’s ability to exercise their rights regarding:
- Taking breaks and working safe lengths of time. Employees who are monitored for productivity every minute they work may skip breaks or work for longer than required to appease the managers who are tracking them for fear of retribution or dismissal.
- The use of personal data, particularly biometric data such as fingerprints, retina scans or facial verification used to sign in to work systems. If not secured correctly this information can have catastrophic consequences such as identity theft if stolen, however employees may not have a choice about providing this information.
- Personal space and comfort. Strict policies and agreement from employees needs to be in place before tracking technology is placed on a person’s body. Tracking employee’s body movements (unless under extreme circumstances where safety is paramount or to help them do their job) is risky and it will be interesting to see if other companies in similar industries to Amazon follow suit with wearable trackers.
Knowing whether you’ve crossed the line from being an efficiency focussed orgainsation to a micro-managed Big Brother-esque regime comes down to the intent behind the decision to use employee tracking technology and whether that intent matches the technology that is being used. Ensuring this intent is right is contingent on understanding the pros and cons of using employee tracking technology.
Employee tracking – the good
When the right software is honestly used for efficiency or compliance purposes, employee tracking can have a range of benefits for employees and employers.
- GPS tracking (on company-owned devices of course!) can make it easier to support field workers and provide real-time feedback to clients about when to expect an agent to arrive.
- Tracking can help you identify areas that are underperforming or struggling due to a lack of staff resources or inefficient processes.
- Time theft can be reduced. When collected and stored in a secure way with the employee’s permission, the use of biometric data such as facial verification as a login when clocking in can be a simple, error free way to ensure people are not signing in for shifts they haven’t worked.
- Tracking absences/no shows, shift times, and break lengths for the purposes of payroll can also help you with rostering to make sure staff work the correct amount of time and take their breaks. It also helps you assess if you have sufficient human resources during peak times and ensures you are complying with award regulations.
- When integrated with a billing system, tracking ensures clients are billed correctly for time worked.
- Emerging tracking devices and technologies can help employees ensure they are complying with product standards and health and safety regulations.
- Time tracking, such as desk-top based time and task software, can help employees monitor their own productivity and assist them with time-management.
Employee tracking – the bad
Unfortunately, in some cases, employees are tracked far more closely than necessary with the intent of using the technology to control the workforce. In other situations, the technology itself doesn’t suit the working environment or real information needs of their managers and becomes a hindrance to employees just getting on with their jobs.
Micro-managing or managing by control – including excessive use of tracking technology – has been proven to damage your workforce rather than improve it in many ways:
- The trust between employees and managers can be eroded, reducing engagement at work and inhibiting the ability of employees and managers to communicate honestly with each other.
- Inappropriate tracking can cause an increase in anxiety and stress and their associated health problems including high blood pressure, sleep difficulties, headaches and digestive issues. This in turns leads to higher employee absenteeism.
- It can promote managers seeing employees as ‘numbers’ or ‘assets’ to be managed and made more efficient, rather than humans.
- It can promote a clockwatching culture – employees become more focussed on time, or ensuring they are recording absolutely everything they do, than on producing quality work.
- Unnecessary tracking, particularly that which tracks tasks on a computer, can stifle creativity and the generation of ideas and innovation that drives businesses forward.
- It can result in a higher employee turnover. If an employee feels they can’t be trusted to do their job without monitoring programmes in place, they will in turn cease to trust their employer and seek employment elsewhere.
With incredible tracking and monitoring technology being developed every day, it’s easy to see how employers could get carried away with the possibilities it offers in terms of better business data and easier workforce management. But if used incorrectly, it does have the potential to detach employers from seeing their staff as real people giving rise to questionable workplace policies and poor morale.
The best way to ensure you aren’t taking employee tracking too far is to step back and consider: 1) how much monitoring you really need for your workforce, 2) how much information you’ll really use to improve productivity and resources, 3) if it will hinder or help your employees do their jobs (e.g. will it take time away from them doing work?), and 4) what impact it may have on your employees mental and physical health. You must also ensure that you use any tracking technology according to stringent policies and procedures that protect your worker’s personal data privacy rights and doesn’t infringe on existing EAs or workplace agreements.
When considered and implemented carefully, whether for time and attendance, productivity or safety, tracking technologies can have wonderful benefits for you and your employees – just keep your employees at the heart of the decision.