Many companies use various forms of workplace surveillance in an effort to improve productivity, prevent theft and increase the safety of employees. With the advantages of workplace surveillance, however, come a host of negative effects, some of which can be detrimental to employee morale and retention. It is important for companies to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of workplace surveillance carefully to determine to what extent it is necessary. Some common forms of workplace surveillance include video cameras, Internet surveillance and phone monitoring.
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Workplace surveillance can make employees feel as if they are constantly being watched and evaluated by their superiors. Whether it is accomplished by monitoring phone calls and e-mail or by setting up video cameras, this type of workplace surveillance can create a feeling of distrust and resentment between employers and employees. It can also lead to increased stress, as employees will feel as if they are under greater pressure to perform well and maintain productivity.
Surveillance in the workplace opens the door to serious privacy invasion issues that are not only degrading, but unlawful. Surveillance cameras set up in rest rooms, employee changing areas and other private areas create a potentially embarrassing situation because employees expect a certain level of privacy in such areas. Having such personal moments documented on film also creates risk that the material will fall into the wrong hands or be otherwise misused in an abusive manner.
Relying on electronic surveillance systems to monitor employees can create a false sense of security because some employers mistakenly believe electronic surveillance is a tool to be used in place of employer surveillance. These surveillance tools aren't a replacement for human supervision; rather, they should be seen as a mechanism that can be used to enhance the supervision procedures that are already in place.
Having access to employees' desktop computers, e-mail accounts, web usage records and phone conversations creates a situation where employers begin searching for reasons to terminate a employee -- whether or not the termination is truly justified. In the past, cases have been brought against employers who have dismissed employees for distributing union e-mails during times of dispute and sending jokes via e-mail over a work computer.
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