In the second instalment of The Big HR Question, two experts take opposing sides on the debate about implementing employee tracking software.
There are many examples of large-scale surveillance taking place in our daily lives: CCTV cameras, GPS tracking, COVID-19 contact tracing, not to mention the data collected from our smartphones which capture nearly every conversation we have.
These technologies aren’t limited to society at large; they’re also making their way into many of our workplaces in the form of location and email monitoring, smart watch data, or collecting data on how well employees are sleeping, as this Japanese wedding company once did.
While some people are strongly in favour of employee tracking software, others remain adamantly opposed.
As more workplaces have transitioned to hybrid work models, discussions about the use of employee tracking software have taken on increased relevance.
With managers having less direct oversight of their teams, some employers argue that employee tracking software is necessary to manage a hybrid workforce.
Lisa Mannering CPHR, employment lawyer and HR Consultant at Langtree Legal and AHRI Cairns Network Co-Convenor and Queensland State Councillor, veers more towards the ‘for’ case, while Mike Weston, Founder and Director of Escape Velocity, who also works in Commercial Strategy and Data Transformation at Valtech, argues against its use.
You can view the conversation between Mannering and Weston below:
- 55 seconds: Is it ethical to use employee tracking software (ETS)?
Weston says, as well as legal and ethical concerns, ETS reflects a “certain cultural tone” in an organisation.
“If employers are simply using it to make sure employees are doing what they should be doing when they should be doing it, I feel that they’re… asking the wrong question.”
On the other hand, Mannering says, “Employers need to have that certainty that people are doing the work, and tracking to some extent… helps people to measure productivity. It puts criteria in place to determine whether WFH arrangements are actually something that the business can continue,” she says.
- 3 minutes and 15 seconds: What impact does employee tracking software have on performance and productivity?
Weston urges HR professionals to consider the primary purpose of implementing employee tracking software. If there are compliance reasons to implement software, it might be legitimate to put constraints in place, but if it’s to ensure people are at their desks at a certain time, it might hold less weight, he says.
Mannering argues that this software might be necessary to ensure employees aren’t “working round the clock” and to check that employees are coping.
- 7 minutes and 12 seconds: How could it impact a culture of psychological safety?
Employee tracking software has the “ability to be an unbiased metric” for HR to ensure their employees are operating in a safe culture, both physically and mentally, says Mannering.
“You would hope that most employees would feel comfortable to speak up and raise concerns, and certainly if you have a psychologically safe workplace there’s probably more chance of that happening, but I think it just provides employers with the opportunity to have the data… to be able to start conversations and potentially change someone’s working life.”
Weston believes that while surveillance may be used for this purpose, it often has the opposite effect.“When people know they are being watched, it adds a level of stress and uncertainty,” he says.
- 9 minutes and 45 seconds: Should employee tracking software be used for safety and compliance?
Both Mannering and Weston agree that employee tracking software is often justified to manage safety and compliance risks, but Weston warns we still need to be very careful of the inadvertent effects of doing so.
- 14 minutes: Should technology be used to track employees’ health?
Although Mannering is largely in favour of employee tracking software, she’s much more reluctant to see it used for health purposes.
15 minutes 22 seconds: Weston shares his experience of running, and participating in, a FitBit experiment at his former company, and hones in on a “formative conversation that [have] led [him]” to take a stance against the use of employee tracking software.
- 20 minutes and 40 seconds: What are the privacy considerations to keep in mind?Mannering offers some advice about how HR and leaders can allay employees’ concerns about privacy, and how data could be used for good.
Want to listen to the full conversation? AHRI members can access the extended version by joining the AHRI Member’s Lounge, where we will post the full 30-minute conversation between Mike and Lisa at 10am on 1 March 2022.