Dataveillance in the Workplace: Moving Beyond Divergent Perspectives

Dataveillance in the Workplace: Moving Beyond Divergent Perspectives

Regina Connolly (Dublin City University, Ireland) and Cliona McParland (Dublin City University, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8516-9.ch019
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The many obvious benefits that accompany digital technology have been matched by some less welcome and more contentious impacts. One of these is the steady erosion of employee privacy. Whilst employee performance has frequently been the object of scrutiny, the increasing number of organizations that monitor employees through advanced digital technologies has added a dystopian edge to existing employee privacy concerns, particularly as many employees are unable to exercise choice in relation to use of these technologies. If unaddressed, their concerns have potential to impact the psychological contract between employee and employer, resulting in loss of employee trust, negative attitudes, and counterproductive work behaviors. This chapter outlines some of the emerging issues relating to use of employee monitoring technologies. It summarizes both management rationale for monitoring as well as employee privacy concerns and proposes an ethical framework that is useful for balancing these differing perspectives.
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Organisations and employees exist within a rapidly changing business context. The changing contours of global economics and shifting market pressures have resulted in a work environment that is now characterized by less job security and where the nature of work has become more intense, cognitively complex, team-based and frequently distributed. Many employers feel that they must satisfy a market imperative that is constantly pushing for greater productivity if their organizations are to remain competitive. Attempts to satisfy that imperative have resulted in a relentless drive for efficiency and a focus on rigorous performance quotas, which in turn have become key determinants of employment and promotion. Technological advancements have facilitated the achievement of those efficiencies and in particular have enabled employers to gain more detailed insights into employee performance, including insights as to the use of technology both during and after work hours. This however, has generated understandable privacy concerns for employees. For example employees are becoming increasingly aware of the ways in which management can employ such technologies to track their location, monitor their email communications and computer interactions, measure their performance and even monitor their health and social media activity – all to an unprecedented level. Moreover, the volume and frequency of the data collection, how it is managed and the ways in which it will be employed is rarely disclosed and this opacity creates an asymmetric power balance that can negatively impact employee productivity and motivation as well reduce trust in employers and consequent commitment to the organisation.

As profit driven organizations strive to manage their business in an efficient and productive manner, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect that organizations would not avail of the obvious empowering benefits that digital technologies, including communication, location and activity tracking applications afford them. Furthermore, it can be argued that they may in fact have legitimate reasons to monitor employee actions. However, for an employee, knowing that their performance is being monitored and that there is increased potential for that information to be used against them as part of performance assessment or promotion evaluation exercises inevitably changes their perspective of the parameters of the employment relationship.

This unequal balance of power resulting from workplace surveillance raises a number of questions, in particular those relating to the ethical nature of managements’ ability to monitor employees’ technology-enabled interactions. The aim of this chapter therefore is to outline some of the major issues relating to workplace surveillance. It starts by discussing dataveillance and related privacy concerns from the employee perspective. The potential impact of workplace surveillance on employee trust and how this may manifest is described. The motivation behind managements’ decision to employ monitoring technologies in the workplace is also outlined. Following this, an ethical framework that may assist when considering how to balance the needs of both parties is detailed.

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