Employers may increasingly use technology to monitor workers

By Aoibhinn Mc Bride

Hybrid work isn’t going anywhere but employer attitudes to remote work haven’t caught up quite yet and “productivity paranoia”– whereby employers don’t quite trust their employees are working to full tilt when not in direct sight — remains an ongoing point of contention.

That’s according to research conducted by Microsoft across 11 countries which found that while a vast majority of employees report they are productive, some 85 per cent of leaders say shifting to hybrid work has impacted their confidence in employees.

The resolution to this discord seems simple: if to-do lists are getting ticked off, targets are being met (or even exceeded in some cases), and profitability isn’t being jeopardised, work location shouldn’t matter.

However, some organisations are resorting to more drastic measures and taking employee monitoring to the next level, using tech to detect keystrokes, inactivity and in some cases, how you’re feeling about your job.

Big boss is watching

Yes, you read that correctly. One report has found that the market for emotion detection and facial recognition software is forecast to exceed $100 billion (€93.9 billion) globally by 2030.

This means your employer may soon be able to use the latest technological advances to work out how you think and feel about your job.

From a legislative standpoint, employee monitoring is legal in Europe under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and employers have a right to monitor company-owned computers including the information contained in company emails to prevent data breaches or cybersecurity threats.

But should they be able to decipher whether a glazed look or stifled yawn during a video call is the true barometer of your dedication to your job?

In the US, AI-powered facial recognition technology is being widely used to facilitate simple workplace tasks including clocking in for a shift or during the interview process.

This includes Amazon’s pledge to roll out AI-powered biometric cameras in its delivery vans to ensure its driver safety while on the road and “spot even the smallest anomalies in Amazon delivery vans”.

Sapience Analytics, a company that produces workplace surveillance software claims its products can “encourage employee wellbeing” as it can prompt employees to take breaks during the day and flag at-risk employees to leaders.

However, research conducted by Accenture has found that excessive employee monitoring and surveillance can lead to a negative outcome including a loss of creative and independent thinking and an increase in workplace stress, which can eventually lead to burnout.

Additionally, 52 per cent of those surveyed shared that workforce data damages trust, while 64 per cent highlighted their fears over employee data being misused or at risk.

That said, an overwhelming majority (92 per cent) stated that they would be open to their employer collecting data about their performance if it led to benefits or helped them improve.

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