HarvardWriters, 11 June 2023
Employee surveillance is a rapidly growing concept in modern workplace. The concept of employee surveillance began with Jeremy Bentham who foresaw a model of observing subjects who were unaware that they are being observed. In his view, Bentham envisioned this system as a way through which he could control prisoners with the very awareness of being watched at any given time bringing the subject into compliance as the only definite way of avoiding risks. The mere possibility of being under constant watch would create a sense of uncertainty and compel the individual to comply with the rules and regulations set. Bentham model of surveillance has seen organizations adopt a similar psychological tactic to control and influence their employees. By internalizing the intentions of the observing entity, the employees are able to conform to the desired behavior as a means of avoiding potential consequences. Nonetheless, the consequences of employee surveillance are far reaching and there is a need to explore the potential ramification associated with employee surveillance. The aim of this essay is to explore the impact of employee surveillance can have on the organization relationship with its employees.
One potential implication of employee surveillance is its association with distrust of its employees. As discussed by Christian (8), the rapid rise of employee monitoring and surveillance has chipped away the employee-employer relationship due to its association with worker mistrust. In a survey conducted on 2000 remote and hybrid United States (U. S) employees, approximately 59% of the employees reported feeling stress and anxiety as a result of their employer surveying their online activity. The top concerns raised by these employees centered on the pervasive feeling of constantly being monitored and the pressure to work long hours and taking few breaks during the day. Based on these factors, nearly half of these employees felt that to this was a violation of their trust (Christian, 8). Such breach of trust could have severe impact on employee morale, their productivity and their job satisfaction.
Moreover, the implication of employee surveillance could also have a far reaching effect on the organization culture. As opined by Filabi and Hurley, while organization have felt the need to increasingly monitor employees performance has simultaneously resulted to sentiments of employee distress which could imply a downward spiral of workplace culture. As Filabi and Hurley exuberate, employee surveillance creates a culture of fear which then creates a culture of mistrust which then makes it possible for organizations to get the work done (10). This perspective is further supported by Cass Sunstein in his book "The Ethics of Influence," where he explores the distinction between coercion and influence. Sunstein (195) suggests that employee surveillance introduces a form of threat into the employer-employee relationship. Employees may feel that their every move is being monitored, leading to heightened anxiety and a pervasive sense of coercion. This, in turn, has the potential to undermine trust and create a culture where employees feel compelled to conform due to fear of repercussions.
In conclusion, employee surveillance can have profound implications for organizational culture. It can create a culture of fear and mistrust, compromising employee well-being and hindering collaboration and innovation. Organizations must be mindful of these potential negative consequences and work towards establishing a healthy balance between monitoring and respecting employee autonomy and privacy. By fostering a culture of trust, transparency, and empowerment, organizations can navigate the complexities of employee surveillance while cultivating a positive and productive work environment.
Azish Filabi, Robert Hurley. “The Paradox of Employee Surveillance.” Behavioral Scientist, 19 Feb. 2019, behavioralscientist.org/the-paradox-of-employee-surveillance/.
Christian, Alex. “The Employee Surveillance That Fuels Worker Distrust.” BBC Worklife, BBC, 27 June 2022, www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20220621-the-employee-surveillance-that-fuels-worker-distrust. Accessed 11 June 2023.
Sunstein, Cass R. The ethics of influence: Government in the age of behavioral science. Cambridge University Press, 2016.