Does Employee Privacy Still Matter?

according to the gatekeepers…

In the early 90s,  only a few technology companies monitored their own employees by mining information from the equipment they provided employees to do their work. By the late 90s, employee monitoring became more sophisticated.  IT departments started purchasing software tools to monitor employee activity – and the tools provided detailed reports related to productivity, email and internet activity – identifying employees who were writing inappropriate emails, wasting time, as well as accessing illegal or non-compliant websites.

Back then, the move to monitor employee’s online activity was controversial and a shock to many senior executives. There was great debate around the leadership table; it was loud and discordant. Many companies chose not to implement tools that were  often deployed without employee’s knowledge and sometimes without corporate leaders being aware.

Fast forward to the digital age, it is so much easier to collect all kinds of data to make decisions about everything – including employees. And norms around collecting data and workplace privacy have changed. While some employees assume their companies monitor their laptop, apps, phone and GPS, other employees are completely unaware of the types and amounts of data their employer’s gather on them.

Given all the change that has occurred, do employers assume privacy is no longer important to employees? How much data gathering is acceptable and for what reasons? We surveyed the gatekeepers, a virtual consortium of 100 senior executive business leaders and influencers, to get their opinions on employee monitoring. Here is what we found out:

Is Employee Monitoring Now the Norm?

Turns out it is fifty-fifty. 50% of the gatekeeper’s companies are monitoring or planning to monitor how employees behave on company-issued devices and how they spend their time in the office.

Of those monitoring employees, according to both our research and the Wall Street Journal article, “The New Ways Your Boss is Spying on You” by Sarah Krouse, employers are interested in things like tracking productivity, spotting illegal or noncompliant behavior, understanding the communication patterns in their organization, identifying informal leaders and influencers, and making sure proprietary information and assets are secure. Others are concerned about the misuse of client or customer data.

“We are mostly concerned that our employees safeguard the sensitive information that’s available to them,” says Rick Routhier, senior director at Spencer Stuart, a company that monitors some behaviors.

Nana Banerjee, former president and CEO of McGraw Hill, is in favor of employee monitoring efforts—so long as they follow pre-defined protocols. “Employee monitoring can be helpful with appropriate guardrails in place to avoid overstepping boundaries,” Banerjee says.

In addition to increasing employee productivity and making sure assets are secure, monitoring can also help organizations enact stronger internal policies.

“We completely revamped our information security routines based on how employees were using social media and private email,” says Alexandra Morehouse, Chief Marketing Officer at Banner Health.

 Should Employees Be Told They are Being Monitored?  

85% of the gatekeepers agree that if you do decide to monitor your employees, you must tell them about it. Only 15% of survey respondents say it’s okay to monitor workers and not tell them—a figure that aligns with recent research by AMA,which found that 83% of companies inform workers when they’re being monitored.

Some gatekeepers concerned about the risks of employee monitoring say you must communicate clearly and often.

“I think that if monitoring becomes known after the fact, management credibility and trust is possibly compromised forever,” says Patrick Fay, Managing Director and Head of Innovation and Productivity at Mizuho Securities.

Barney Loehnis, Founder of, commented, “Employers should be 100% transparent on what data they track and how it will be used,” he explains. “Relationships are built on trust. If employers are not transparent about how data will be used, then the trust is broken.”

Should EmployeesAssume They Are Being Monitored?

Most of the gatekeepers agreed that employees should expect to be monitored—at least to some extent.  Sometimes it is just a few senior executives who know the extent of monitoring being used.

I believe that it’s a given that electronic data is monitored in today’s world,” says Richard Veldran, Senior Advisor at Boston Consulting Group. “Employers have the inherent right to see what employees are doing with company-owned assets.”

“I don’t think that the notice – if provided well – needs to be provided more than once,” explains Alex Dimitrief, former President & CEO of GE’s Global Growth Organization and now a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law.

Mark Sullivan, president of Buckhorn, Inc., shares that sentiment. “When using a company’s data resources, employees should expect to be monitored,” Sullivan says. “If for reasons outside compliance, employees should be periodically reminded they may be monitored and why.”

One CEO gatekeeper felt that gathering data among employees was an obvious choice, “Most employees will either forget that they are being tracked or already assume that the company is tracking them—particularly if they’re under the age of 35.”

Is Employee Monitoring Worth the Cost?

By now, you might be convinced that employee monitoring is the norm, and maybe even the right approach for company leaders—it’s not about spying on people, it’s about finding data to make businesses more effective.

But leadership still doubts the value of employee monitoring, even if it is less acceptable to express opinions against gathering data in 2019.

70 percent of the gatekeepers who respond say they don’t think the advantages are worth the potential disadvantages or they remain unconvinced of the value of employee monitoring.

Donna Love, finance director of Unilever’s beauty and personal care division, agrees. “The relationship between employer and employee should be one of transparency and trust,” she says. “Companies should strive to create inclusive and open environments that foster trust and therefore promote full engagement of the team.”

Employer and Employee: Be Thoughtful and Cautious

One greater NYC gatekeeper let us know that his company monitors, believe it or not, how long employees are in the restroom. So, if you are an employee who may or may not know if you are being monitored, play it safe! Assume any information held or passing through any company owned devices, systems or software is being monitored by your employer, along with any activity at your workplace, that involves company space or equipment and within company owned cars. For some employers, it is all fair game.

And if you are an employee/leader making decisions on employee monitoring, keep the debate around the leadership table going strong. It is the only way to ensure that you have a plan your organization can get behind, to ensure that all data gathered is necessary and for appropriate reasons. Otherwise, as one recent Harvard Business Review article went as far as suggesting, employee monitoring can ultimately backfire.

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