Big boss is watching you

Written by joanna sloame
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Is your manager spying on you?

Big boss is watching you
(Getty Thinkstock)

A full 60 to 80 percent of employees’ time spent on the Internet at work is unrelated to their actual job.

— Study by Newswise

Everyone knows that it’s a bad idea to complain about your boss on your company email, but most people have no idea the extent to which employers monitor them on a daily basis. These days, companies keep close tabs on how their employees spend the workday -- from the websites they visit to the phone calls they make. And there’s not much employees can do about it. The only real way you can maintain a semblance of privacy is to be aware of how and why your employer is monitoring you and plan accordingly.

Why are employers monitoring you?

From McDonald’s to the Bank of England, nearly every company includes in their handbook or orientation a signed agreement that they will be monitoring their employees in some way. “Monitoring software is meant as a backup for employers to ensure employees are doing their jobs and not being distracted,” Edward M. Kwang, the president of productivity measurement solution company MySammy, told AOL.

Employers have good reason to be concerned about productivity. According to a research by Newswise, 60 to 80 percent of employees’ time spent on the Internet at work is unrelated to their actual job.

Companies also monitor their employees’ work habits to prevent legal issues. “Concern over litigation and the role electronic evidence plays in lawsuits and regulatory investigations has spurred more employers to monitor online activity,” Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute, told AOL. According to an ePolicy survey, one percent of employers say they’ve gone to court for lawsuits regarding employee emails, while 2 percent of employers were required to turn over employee instant messages to the courts.

Companies are also concerned about employees mishandling company information or engaging in risque behavior, experts say. They should be: Fourteen percent of employees surveyed admitted to e-mailing confidential information about their company to outside parties and 9 percent have used company email to transmit sexual, pornographic or romantic content, according to the AMA survey.

Website monitoring

To prevent inappropriate Internet usage during work hours, 66 percent of companies monitor Internet connections -- meaning they monitor when you're logging on and off and what sites you visit -- while 65 percent use software to block inappropriate websites, according to a 2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey by the ePolicy Institute. Those companies that block websites are generally concerned with adult content, gaming, social networking, entertainment, sports, and shopping.

“Generally speaking, bigger organisations control the websites employees can visit at the network level,” Kwang says. “On the other hand, smaller organisations tend to choose to monitor their employees’ online activities rather than outright blocking sites.”

Email monitoring

Most companies have written policies that say they can monitor your email, including personal email sent on company computers.

According to the Newswise study, nearly half of all employers monitor and store computer files and emails. Of those companies, 73 percent utilise programs to automatically sift through employee emails, while 40 percent hire someone specifically to review employee emails.

“A classic mistake is thinking that changing to your personal account buys you any privacy,” says Lewis Maltby, author of the office rights book “Can They Do That?” “If you send an email out, it goes through your company server. If they’re monitoring email, the personal e-mail gets monitored just like the business email.” In other words, nothing you do on a work computer is private -- nothing.


Employers also use keylogging programs that record workers’ keystrokes in order to track productivity. The Newswise study found that 45 percent of employers install keylogging programs, which gives them access to everything workers type, including their passwords.

Social media monitoring

Companies have also caught wind of that little trend called social media, and most include a social media policy in their employee handbooks, which many people merely gloss over when they’re hired. The Newswise report indicated that 12 percent of companies monitor employee comments about the company on blogs and message boards, and another 10 percent monitor social networking sites.

Some workplaces have even required potential hires to turn over their social media passwords to be vetted.

Phone recording

Everyone’s called up a company to hear “this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes,” and in many cases, employee phone recording is simply for customer service.

Companies are permitted to record employee phone conversations, as long as one party consents. And chances are, there’s a consent form in the employee handbook. 45 percent of companies also monitor phone usage and numbers called, while 16 percent record phone conversations. Another 9 percent monitor voice mail messages.

Video recording

Surprisingly, video recording tends to be the least invasive form of employee observation. The report found that 48 percent of companies surveyed use video monitoring to prevent theft, violence and sabotage, while only 7 percent use video to track employees’ time management.

Video surveillance really depends on the industry. A more limited number of employers use video surveillance -- typically, employers with wholesale or retail goods or where safety and security are a particular issue.

The consequences

You may think checking Facebook at work is an innocent offence, but there are serious consequences to wasting company time and money. The study found that 28 percent of employers have fired employees for email misuse, and 30 percent have fired workers for inappropriate Internet usage. Six percent of employers said they have fired workers for misuse or private use of company phones.

Luckily, employers are generally just storing information in case of legal issues and only reference it should a dispute arise. In most cases employers have neither the time nor the money to continually monitor what employers are doing on computers.

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