There are a huge number of reasons why employers use surveillance tactics against employees.
- To reinforce management power and control
- To ‘measure’ performance and productivity
- To understand employee mindset and attitude
- To map social relationships between employees
- To undermine whistleblowing efforts
- To gain intelligence on workplace organising activities
Instances of such tactics can - and do - appear in a diverse range of contexts. Although we might think of surveillance as something primarily digital, and rooted in office environments, it is important to remember that some of the most well-documented examples of surveillance have taken place in logistics. It’s no secret that delivery drivers and warehouse staff are being increasingly tracked in a bid to enforce a specific form of workplace discipline that allows management to deliver what it might call greater ‘efficiency’.
It’s not just about speed and output. Surveillance can also be used to determine the ‘quality’ of one’s work, or can be deployed in a pseudoscientific manner to build a psychological profile of employees to understand motivations and attitude. The former is something widely used in customer service and support settings, while the latter is today ubiquitous in many forms of white collar work.
Although we shouldn’t reduce employee surveillance to technological capabilities, there are still a range of technological tools that make surveillance easier.
- Reading instant messages and emails
- Application usage recording
- Viewing calendars, notes, and reminders
- Remote desktop control
- Monitoring internet activity
- Keylogging and mouse tracking
- GPS and mobile device tracking
- Recording and screenshotting employees’ screens
That list is far from exhaustive. Employee surveillance is a growing industry driven by employers looking to increase pressure and control over staff, and software companies producing new technologies that enable such extensive monitoring. The tactics employed and the products on offer will continue to dominate the workplace, as long as there is no challenge to intrusive surveillance for the control and discipline of labour.
Workplace surveillance has become unnecessarily intrusive. It contributes to a style of work that is increasingly hostile to workers’ mental health and increases stress. Its implementation is rarely transparent and creates many opportunities for workers to be treated unfairly.
In short, it undermines employee autonomy and agency.