Talking tech since 2003

When starting a new job, one of the now-standard procedures everyone goes through is a drug test. While a drug test informs your new employer what you do in your own time, most people are comfortable with the invasion of privacy in exchange for work. Some companies are willing to push further into their employees’ personal lives, using anything from GPS tracking to voice recordings.

Despite the fact that businesses can be susceptible to labor lawsuits based on the way they manage their employees, there are no laws against an employer invading the privacy of their employees. While there could be laws implemented in the future about tracking employees during off-hours, nothing is in place right now. In a never-ending struggle to increase productivity, companies are pushing the boundaries of privacy as far as they can.

Walmart and Others Leading the Push for Innovation

Many big-name businesses put out patents for technologies they’ll never use, but the patents themselves could seem like a looming threat. Walmart was awarded a patent for audio technology a few weeks ago. The system would allow employers to listen to the scanner beeping, record items in a transaction and make a note of how many bags were used.

The creepy part is Walmart listening in on conversations between workers and customers alike. The company will even be able to make sure employees are greeting customers as per their standards. While the patent may not see the light of day, the consideration for such technology is enough to make one pause.

The well goes deeper with the technology company Steelcase experimenting with facial monitoring software. The facial monitoring is for gauging employee expressions and evaluating moods. One could only imagine what would happen if the employee seemed to be in an unhappy mood while on the job.

Analytics of the Subjective

The biggest problem with trying to evaluate moods is the large margin for error. No one can guess what another person is thinking, especially a stranger, and use that guess as hard evidence for a person to lose their job. The very idea is enough to make employees anxious and paranoid while at work, which doesn’t help the overall mood in the least.

The facial monitoring experiments might be something to worry about in the future, but the present is full of problems already. Amazon is considering tracking every move of their warehouse employees via a wristband. The wristband is even set to vibrate if the employee seems like they’re not doing the right action, they’re not in the correct location or they don’t move enough for a certain amount of time.

Right now, the wristband idea is only in patents, but Amazon has been known to track their employees before. Previous employees have left the company for mental health concerns, as Amazon was pushing too hard and stressing people out. Treating people as machines does little to keep people employed in the company.

Some companies are hiding the stalking behavior behind the term “people analytics.” People analytics is when companies start implementing ways to find out what employees do in their free time, including who they talk to and what they say and monitor every moment during work, including time spent in the restroom.

The constant monitoring of people analytics make employees paranoid, overly anxious and stressed. No one likes something continually looking over their shoulder. Companies usually try using the technology and techniques to get a better idea of where they can cut corners and how work can be improved.

The Potential Toll on Employee Morale

The employees being monitored will have their emotions and overall mental state affected depending on how deep the privacy breach goes. An employee with too much on their plate may start performing poorly, spread word of invasive behavior or even quit. Instead of getting quantifiable results to make the company better and more efficient, the invasive technology could be detrimental for business.

When employees respond negatively to the invasion, some companies decide the employees are at fault and not the technology. Employees are subsequently fired or laid off to make room for robotic automation, which can be observed without being creeped out. While automation can certainly be more efficient, losing human employees is bad for the company regardless. A business’ reputation must always be considered.

Digging into an employee’s personal life may look good on paper, but remembering employees as real people is imperative for a successful company. Even big businesses can fall apart if enough people get fed up with the working practices. Finding ways to save money is always good, but spying on potentially “bad” employees is just a downward spiral.

Just because laws are not in place to protect an employee’s privacy should not be an invitation to invade. There are lines in the sand for what an employee and the general public is willing to take from a company. Destroying an already booming business by crossing the line isn’t worth the hassle. Making sure thousands of employees stay in line can be difficult, but treating them like real people is the start of a great working relationship.

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