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employee monitoring

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Employee monitoring is the use of various methods of workplace surveillance to gather information about the activities and locations of staff members. 

Businesses monitor employees to improve productivity and protect corporate resources. The main intention is to prevent unacceptable behavior in the first place and, should that effort fail, to curtail the behavior before it can have a negative effect on the business. 

A workplace research study from International Data Corp (IDC) reported that 30-40 percent of employee Internet access time was not work-related. Other statistics: 21-31 percent of employees had sent emails divulging sensitive information, such as intellectual property or trade secrets, outside of the corporate network; 60 percent of all online purchases are made during work hours. In the United States, the annual loss in productivity through online goldbricking is estimated at 40 percent.

Monitoring methods include keystroke logging, wiretapping, GPS tracking and Internet monitoring, which includes surveillance of employees' web surfing, email, instant messaging and interaction on social networking sites. 

One important consideration for employee monitoring is the question of whose equipment they are using and when they're using it. It's legal for employers to monitor staff's use of corporate-owned computers, smartphones and other devices during business hours but if the employee owns the equipment and/or they are on their own time, that's another matter. The issue of legality becomes murky when employers monitor staff using corporate-owned devices outside of work hours or using their own devices during work hours. 

Before deploying an employee monitoring program, you should clarify the terms of acceptable and unacceptable use of corporate resources during work hours and develop a comprehensive acceptable use policy (AUP) that staff must agree to. 

See also: Hawthorne effect

This was last updated in September 2014

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