We’ll be watching

Employee surveillance software—though popular— can backfire

Roofing contractors have been using employee-monitoring devices and software for some time whether by installing GPS tracking devices in work trucks, using apps to track when workers arrive on job sites or by other means.

And according to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, in April 2020, global demand for employee surveillance software more than doubled. The increase most likely was pandemic-induced as employers scrambled to make sure workforces were still actually working, but research shows these types of tactics don’t always work as intended.

The authors of “Monitoring Employees Makes Them More Likely to Break the Rules” say a majority of tracking software measures productivity and performance as well as tries to deter rule breaking. But the authors also say their research proves such monitoring can have negative results for companies.

The research found when employees are monitored, they are more likely to take unapproved breaks, ignore instructions, work at a slow pace and steal company equipment. The question is why behavior becomes worse as a result of monitoring.

The authors say people generally are “motivated to do the right thing by a combination of external factors … and their internal moral compass. … Our studies show monitoring employees causes them to subconsciously feel that they are less responsible for their own conduct, thus making them more likely to act immorally.”

But studies also show there is a way to have surveillance without negative consequences. And to do that, you must be transparent with employees, fair in the way you implement the process and explain why you are monitoring them. For example, let them know when monitoring is off-limits like during break times and off hours. In addition, you could give employees access to the data you collect and show them trends across the company, helping create buy-in.

The authors write: “Even just explaining the scope and purpose of monitoring can boost employees’ acceptance of the practice by about 70%.”

There are pros and cons to monitoring employees, but if you take time to do it correctly, you can minimize the cons and maximize the pros.

AMBIKA PUNIANI REID is editor of Professional Roofing and NRCA’s vice president of communications.


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