Electronic Monitoring of Employees

In the 1920s Frederick Taylor first considered the use of observation (time and motion) to assess an employee’s ability at work in order to increase efficiency and reduce wastage (cost). Taylor monitored workers’ actions and drew conclusions regarding their quality and speed as to whether the worker in question was positive or negative (when compared to each other and expectations) for the process observed. His work was criticised as not considering the human condition, i.e. the factors that can cause every worker to perform differently from each other that cannot be controlled, especially under observation, to the point of being unethical; treating workers as machines rather than humans.

In the 1950s McGregor developed his classification of worker’s theory. This theory states that workers fall into two distinct types; X or Y. Each type dictates their natural attitude to work and the resulting control mechanisms that can be put in place to achieve the optimum performance. Theory X, which contains the majority of people, states that this type of worker has little ambition and that work is not a natural behaviour. As a result it must be controlled and, moreover, punishment threatened for non achievement/compliance. Surprisingly McGregor postulated that such people prefer this to be the case rather than to be left to their own work ethic, whereas theory Y states that this type of worker treats work as a natural behaviour and is self managing in his objectives.

The trend is rising in the use of electronic monitoring to measure employee productivity, especially in large or outsourced organisations/functions as it results in less expensive management time required in the long term and the availability of searchable data.

There are many types of electronic monitoring to consider using within an organisation however using such monitoring to control and/or punish behaviour implies that, as McGregor classified, the majority of the workers in the target environment would be of his theory X and would fit with the solution to achieve optimum performance results or that the organisation would like to move to this type of worker (e.g. process/production type work in factories, call centres, etc.). Time and motion studies, such as those first tried by Taylor, have certainly proved their worth in commercial terms over the years and there are many opportunities to use electronic monitoring to good effect:

Monitoring Type Data Recorded Worker Uses
work specific time to complete a task and a rating of that tasks success Improving Efficiency, Control
telephone calls audio content, time and duration Improving Efficiency, Control
Internet usage URLs visited, time and duration Improving Resources, Control
emails header and content, time and frequency Improving Resources, Control
timekeeping arrival, break duration and frequency, departure Improving Efficiency, Control
location where and for how long Improving Efficiency, Control
private actions organisational relevant information (e.g. posts on facebook) Organisational Presentation, Control
video surveillance video content Improving Efficiency, Control

The table above is intended to highlight the types of electronic monitoring possible in growing use today and the possibilities they present for the improvement of efficiency (and by interpolation the reduction of wasted time and resources) and, where suitable, a means of control which fits with McGregor’s theory X. We cannot, however, judge the usefulness of control without considering the working environment as a whole as in reality there is a great deal more to consider both in an individual worker and in a unit of workers.

The objective of commercial organisations is largely governed by law which, at least in company law in the United Kingdom, is stated as “maximising shareholder’s wealth”. This statement implies profit however today it also implies actions which are seen to be sustainable, ethical and legal. In order to work towards this goal with electronic monitoring tools, we need to consider the stakeholders and ensure that their requirements are met as far as possible:

Stakeholder Objective
Shareholders The organisation is giving me at least the return I am looking for over the time period I expect
Management The organisation is healthy and profitable in the short, medium and long terms and the shareholders are happy
Employees The organisation treats me well and rewards me appropriately
Customers The organisation delivers value for money
Suppliers Being associated with the organisation is both financially profitable and positive for image/marketing
Regulatory Bodies The organisation adheres to laws and best practices
Society The organisation is trusted and respected

Depending on the location of the organisation, as some areas are more litigious than others and have stricter data protection laws, it may not be possible to record all the types of data presented above without risking punitive action by regulatory bodies. In addition we must ensure that our data storage and access adheres to the area’s legal data policy of (UK) having a legitimate reason for collecting personal data (e.g. improvement), being open about how the data collected will be used, that it will not be used to any negative or illegal effect and it must be stored securely. In addition the data must also be kept up to date, not kept for any longer than necessary and must not be sent to any country without such data protection. The stakeholders directly affected must be aware and accepting of this.

In conclusion, the use of monitoring tools that are accepted by the majority worker attitude and culture to improve efficiency, reduce waste without negatively affecting the workforce and without breaking legal requirements or social attitudes can be of great benefit to the organisation (Godfrey (nd)). This requires their introduction with the participation of interested workers (perhaps Theory Ys) to demonstrate that this technology is not intended as invasive and controlling but for the improvement of the organisation as a whole. This means that the use of such technology should fit with the organisational and the individual cultures, without it Al-Rjoub et al (2008) found that workers’ performance suffered as a result. The Board need to carefully consider these factors as a means of aiding a healthy and profitable future for all concerned.


Adams & McGrindle (2008) Pandora’s Box: Social & Professional Issues of the Information Age. University of Reading: Wiley.

Al-Rjoub, Zabian & Qawasmeh (2008) Electronic Monitoring: The Employees Point of view [Online]. Available at http://www.scipub.org/fulltext/jss/jss43189-195.pdf (Accessed 16 Feb 2010).

Godfrey (nd) Electronic Work Monitoring: An Ethical Model [Online]. Available at: http://www.acs.org.au/documents/public/crpit/CRPITV1Godfrey.pdf (Accessed 16 Feb 2010).

Panina & Aielo (2004) Acceptance of electronic monitoring and its consequences in different cultural contexts: A conceptual model [Online]. Available at: http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jraiello/submissionJIM5-16.doc (Accessed 16 Feb 2010).

Roberts (nd) Acceptance Issues to consider when implementing an employee monitoring program [Online]. Available at: http://www.jrrobertssecurity.com/security-news/security-crime-news0049.htm (Accessed 16 Feb 2010).