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Companies want to protect their assets. Workers want their privacy. How can employers and their teams use employee monitoring to achieve both goals? Faithful on the Clock Episode 59 outlines why the issue is so murky, along with some best practices for monitoring in an ethical way.
[00:30] - The first main issue involved in employee monitoring is employee privacy. Even Jesus had some desire and need to control when, where, and how to reveal information.
[01:35] - The second issue is the employer’s responsibility to protect their assets, whether those assets are intellectual or physical. This will always conflict with the need for privacy.
[03:14] - Where people balance privacy and asset protection is based on region or culture, as shown in the variance between the U.S. and the EU.
[04:26] - The globalization of business means you have to zoom out in your approach to employee monitoring.
[05:06] - Employee monitoring is really a matter of whether employees feel valued and heard. Most workers are OK with monitoring if the employer is upfront about it.
[06:02] - Having your HR department put your monitoring policy in writing is a basic start to being transparent about what, why, and how you are watching.
[06:38] - Incentives can help encourage employees to accept opt-in monitoring you might want to do.
[06:58] - Follow the rule of not asking employees to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. If you’re not sure what they think, use surveys and other tools to find out.
[07:39] - Employees can play a big role in keeping employees accountable.
[08:22] - Employees also can help their employer develop employee monitoring policies and tools.
[09:22] - Everyone has an interest in protecting the business, so ultimately both employer and the employees are on the same team about monitoring. The story of Joseph in Genesis shows the benefit of good oversight and how it can be a unifying strategy.
There are two contrasting needs involved in employee monitoring–the desire of employees to have privacy, and the desire of employers to protect their assets.
The balance between employee privacy and employer asset protection is largely culturally set. Some locations lean more toward privacy, while others toward letting companies protect the assets. In a global market, this can get incredibly complex. It means that we need to zoom out and have a broader view of how to approach the issue, rather than just looking at regulation alone.
Employee monitoring relates heavily to whether employees feel valued and heard. Transparency matters, with most workers saying they’d be less worried about monitoring if their employers were just upfront.
Employers can work toward transparency in monitoring by putting monitoring policies in writing and updating them as needed. They can also offer incentives for opt-in monitoring, and assessing how comfortable they would be complying with the monitoring requirements.
Employees still can have a big influence on monitoring practices. They can hold their employers accountable, such as asking for a rationale for unequal application of monitoring rules; file complaints or lawsuits, and democratically seek to get involved in the implementation process.
Everyone is on the same team when monitoring is taking place. Everyone in the company, regardless of level or title, has an interest in ensuring the company is protected and does well. The story of Joseph in Genesis is an example of how good, transparent monitoring ended up unifying a dysfunctional family.
Update yourself on what your company monitors and why.
Look at upcoming initiatives and create concrete, collaborative action plans about any monitoring those goals and projects might need.
What’s coming up next:
Good communication can make or break a business. Episode 60 of Faithful on the Clock explores common communication pitfalls, as well as the hallmarks of successful interactions.
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Happy day, everyone! This is the Faithful on the Clock podcast, the show designed to get your faith and work aligned. I'm your host Wanda Thibodeaux, and today we are talking about employee monitoring. The waters here are pretty murky, so let's clear up what you can and can't do and how to go about monitoring in a way that does not stink. Let's get to it.
To start us off today, I wanna point out that there are really two main issues that make employee monitoring difficult. The first issue is employee privacy. So on the employee side, you probably don't want your boss seeing your private emails or listening in on conversations remotely after hours. So this really ties to the ideas of independence and autonomy, the idea that people like to feel like they have a right to control how much people do or do not know. And you know, scripture shows us that Jesus valued privacy in the same way. Luke 5:16 says he often withdrew to lonely places to pray. He didn’t make a spectacle of it because He wanted that to be an intimate time just between Him and God. And there are a couple of examples like the story of Him healing the leper in Matthew 1:40-45 that show it was important for Jesus to be able to keep His miracles private at the beginning of His ministry, because even though things like physical healing mattered to Him, His bigger job was to make sure that people heard the good news.
The second issue is the employer's responsibility to protect their assets. Now, the Bible is clear that we’re not supposed to covet money. But there are plenty of scriptures that talk about managing money in such a way that you don’t run into trouble. For example, Proverbs 24:30-34 talk about the vineyard of a lazy man, and how if you don’t tend to what you have, poverty will come on you like a robber. We get more advice in Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 about investing and being properly prepared. But the assets employers protect, that can be both physical or intellectual stuff, OK? So, for example, if they issue you a company phone, that's their property and they're gonna want to know where that is. Or maybe you have a company laptop that has the design files for a new product on it and the company needs to make sure that those files don't get into competitor hands. Another one that a lot of people are familiar with is when a company uses software to log stuff like how long your logged in, keystrokes, or website histories to make sure that you are productive and aren't doing personal things on company time. So in that case, they're protecting not only the basic money that they pay you, but also the potential value of being able to work as efficiently as possible, because the idea is if you can focus, you might just finish more or come up with more ideas. And so the main concept that I wanna drive home when we talk about employee monitoring is that those two sides are always going to be a little bit at war, and you have to balance them if you are going to monitor your employees well.
Now here's the deal. Every location has its own interpretation of where this balance is going to be. That is a cultural thing. And so for example, in the European Union, it is my understanding that you as a company have to give your employees notice if you plan to monitor them online. They put a little bit more weight on the privacy side. Now in the United States where I am, we do not have a federal law like that that would require employers to let employees have notice. We have different regulations even from state to state. But we do have the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or ECPA, and that has a big exception in it that essentially allows companies to monitor as long as they can make a legitimate business case for doing so. The ECPA also says they can do additional monitoring with the consent of the employees. And we do have some limits in terms of location that relate to privacy. So for example an employer can't put a camera in a company bathroom. So obviously, I can't go into the specifics for every region in the world, but that just kind of gives you a taste that there is a lot of variety in this.
Now maybe back a couple decades I might have been able to tell you, “Well just look up the regulations for your region and that'll be enough.” But the issue now is that we're so global in the way we do business. So you might have five employees from around the world who all have different expectations of what you're going to do and who all live in areas with different regulations. So yes, you have to be aware of the legalities where your people are, but you need a kind of zoomed out or big picture approach to how to make this all work, because you're going to run into real differences of opinion and there might be logistical considerations as well.
Now if you zoom out enough I think what you will find is that this is really a matter of whether the employees feel respected and heard. And I think nothing feels more disrespectful or silencing than when you take away somebody's choice. Because if you don't have choice, it feels disempowering. And that can feel really unsafe and stressful. So with that in mind, a survey by Dtex Systems found that 77% of workers would be less concerned with employee monitoring if the employer just told them about the monitoring upfront. Or to put that little bit more simply, the workers just wanted the company to be open and honest. So even if you are in an area where you don't have to tell employees what you're watching or why, it's gonna benefit you if you're transparent.
All, right, so what’s the best way to be transparent? I think the easiest way to do that is to have your HR department put your monitoring policy in writing. And that should clarify the tools you use and what your objectives are. And you can make that available to every employee and have them review it when they're hired. Just remember that as regulations change, as your company goals and technologies change, that policy likely will have to be updated. So anytime that you decide to make a shift to what you are monitoring, put that in writing and update the workers in advance of the shift.
The second thing I think that you can do as a company is to offer some reasonable incentives if you want to do any opt-in type of monitoring. You know, really try to make it worth the workers’ while to be giving you that information, because you're benefiting from the extra data you're collecting, and it's not really a fair trade if the employees don't get anything back.
And finally, there's an old leadership rule that you don't ask somebody to do something that you wouldn't be willing to do yourself. So whenever you are thinking about monitoring something, just stop and ask yourself, “Would I be okay sharing that same information or access?” And just understand that, if you are feeling uncomfortable with it, there are probably other people on your team who would too. And you know, if you're really unsure of what employee opinions are on a certain monitoring tool or strategy, just be upfront and ask. You know, do a survey or have some discussions around the water cooler. Put out some feelers to just confirm what your gut instinct might be telling you.
So let's switch to the employee side for a second. I think it is absolutely critical that you realize that you have some authority to hold your employer accountable for what they are doing. So for example, if you notice you’re being monitored and your teammate isn’t, go to your supervisor and ask what the rationale is. Ask that they apply what they’re doing in a fair way. If there’s an obvious violation, don’t just stick your head in the sand and assume, you know, that you’ve just got to deal with it because that’s life. No, you go file that complaint with HR. You go find out if it’s happening anywhere else, and if you have to, maybe you file a formal lawsuit.
But let’s just back up for a minute. I want you to realize that you can have some say in developing the employee monitoring, too. So for instance, maybe your company says, OK, there’s just no way we can avoid a key logger. Maybe you as the employee have to kinda eat that. But you can take initiative to do the product research or educate your team about that tool to reduce conflict. Because remember, people generally tend to be scared of what they don’t know or understand. You can go to your leadership and say, “You know, I’ve got some concerns about some bugs in that software you were looking at. Can we set up a time to discuss those?” So you wanna try to let leadership know where you’re coming from individually, and at the same time, because you as part of the team have an interest in protecting the business, you also need to be comfortable yourself a little bit to make sure that the monitoring really achieves that goal.
And this really gets to what I think is the heart of this, which is the idea that everybody is actually on the same team. CEO, janitor, doesn’t matter. Everybody in the company has an interest in ensuring that the business assets, including people, aren’t mishandled. Everybody in the company has an interest in keeping the business out of legal trouble and building a culture where asking for the why or the how behind something is normalized. So that’s my bigger message to you, that when you have to figure employee monitoring out, you do not let it lapse into us versus them. You can apply that more generally to a lot of other areas outside of monitoring, too, and I think it’s honestly a leadership fundamental, but I want to make a quick comparison here to the story of Joseph you’ll find in Genesis 37-50. If you’re not familiar with that story, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. And you see in that story that there was a ton of family dysfunction, a lot of division and hard feelings. But Joseph ended up in Egypt and became very powerful, and with God’s guidance, He took control of the crops in Egypt and he stored up grain there. And He had to watch people carefully and get a lot of information to do that well. But he was very clear about why he was watching what people were doing with the crops, you know, he told them that famine was on the way. And he monitors all this, he supervises it, and when famine comes, the stores of grain that Joseph had built end up saving everybody. But his brothers, the same ones who had sold him into slavery, they come to Egypt to buy grain. And Joseph tells them, you know, “You were trying to hurt me, but God used all of this to do good.” And ultimately, the brothers understand how valuable Joseph’s oversight and watchfulness was and they realize that there isn’t us versus them, it’s just, they’re the same family. So that’s how I want you to think about this, that good oversight ends up being very unifying.
Well, I can tell you, if I am monitoring my clock properly, it’s time for me to wrap this up. So I’ll just invite you now to join me in a quick prayer.
Lord, as we tackle this muddy issue, I pray that all my listeners out there can just take genuine rest and be comforted in the fact that there is nothing under the sun you don’t see or that you don’t know about. You monitor everything for us 24/7, but it is always out of love, and I just pray that however we monitor each other, that can be our motivation, that love can be our motivation, as well. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
That’s the end of Episode 59, peeps. Coming up in two weeks, I’m going to chat with you about communication. I’ll cover the biggest pain points teams usually have and outline the hallmarks of interactions that form truly solid teams that get results. But in the meantime, help me out. Go to patreon.com/faithfulontheclock and sign up to support the show. There are different pricing options, so you can choose whatever fits your budget, but no matter what you pick, you’ll get access to some awesome goodies with your sponsorship. Take care of that for me, stay safe, and as always, be blessed.
Faithful on the Clock is a podcast meant to get your Christian faith and work aligned. You won’t find mantras or hacks here--just scripture-based insights to help you grow yourself, your company, and your relationship with God. If you want out of the worldly hamster wheel and want to work with purpose, then this is the show for you. Hosted by freelance business writer Wanda Thibodeaux.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux is a freelance writer based in Eagan, MN. Since 2006, she has worked with a full range of clients to create website landing pages, product descriptions, articles, professional letters, and other content. She also served as a daily columnist at Inc.com for three years, where she specialized in content on business leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and behavior.
Currently, Thibodeaux accepts clients through her website, Takingdictation.com. She is especially interested in motivational psychology, self-development, and mental health.