Monitoring Employee Actions in the Workplace: Good Business Practice or Unethical Behaviour?

Monitoring Employee Actions in the Workplace: Good Business Practice or Unethical Behaviour?

Cliona McParland (Dublin City University, Ireland) and Regina Connolly (Dublin City University, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-573-5.ch008


While the use of Internet based technologies empower organisations immensely, the recent surge of pervasive technologies into the workplace environment has created situations whereby employees are becoming increasingly aware of the ways in which management can employ these technologies to monitor their email and computer interactions. Although it is apparent that in some cases management may have legitimate reasons to monitor employees’ actions it is becoming increasingly evident that emerging issues and subsequent privacy concerns resulting from the use of these technologies have the potential to negatively impact organisational productivity and employee morale. This chapter outlines some of the major issues relating to workplace surveillance, identifying the emerging issues and subsequent privacy concerns from the employee’s perspective, as well as the motivation behind managements’ decision to employ monitoring technologies in the workplace.
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It is a common belief that one of the greatest threats to personal privacy lies in the monitoring and surveillance capabilities of modern technology. Privacy is a complex construct that remains beset by conceptual and operational confusion. It is an ambiguous concept that for many is difficult to either define or understand. For example, for every definition of privacy sourced from the literature, a counterexample can be easily produced (Introna, 1996). Understandably therefore, privacy is often defined and measured in terms of a specific study, event or situation and as a result, the conceptual confusion that surrounds the construct as well as the ways in which best to manage it remains a hot discussion topic. In order to gain a full understanding of the privacy construct, it is reasonable to suggest that one considers it from a multiplicity of viewpoints and as such, privacy is often examined as a psychological state, a form of power, an inherent right or an aspect of freedom (Parker, 1974; Acquisti, 2002; Rust et al., 2002)

One aspect of privacy which for many is central to our understanding of the construct is the issue of control, specifically the individual’s need to have control over their personal information. Control has been defined as “the power of directing command, the power of restraining” (Oxford, 1996: 291) and is consistently proposed in the literature as a key factor in relation to understanding individual privacy concerns. Personal control is important as it relates to the interest of individuals to control or significantly influence the handling of personal data (Clarke, 1988). Practitioner reports confirm the importance that individuals attribute to being able to control their personal information, particularly in relation to the use of Internet-based systems. For example, a 1999 Louis Harris poll indicated that 70% of online users felt uncomfortable disclosing personal information while a 2003 Harris poll of 1010 adults also found that 69% of those surveyed described their ability to control the collection of personal information as being ‘exceptionally important’. Statistics like these indicate the increasing concern of individuals regarding the violation of their privacy and their desire to be able to control their personal information.

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