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Big Brother effect

Every employer wants to make sure that the employees are fully committed to their work and are performing to the best of their ability. Every employer would like to believe that the productivity of his or her employees is at optimal level. However, the present generation of employees is tech savvy; working in an era of increased computer technology to which they have unlimited access and from which they can benefit a lot; both privately and professionally.

As a result, a growing number of employees are using the company computers for personal internet related activities and actually view this unlimited access as a right as opposed to a privilege. Needless to say, this trend has had a negative effect on their productivity and performance at the workplace, something that has many business leaders concerned. As a result, an increasing number of employers are opting to monitor the computer activities of their employees through use of sophisticated technology which can track electronic mail as well as computer file transfers.

The purpose of this employee monitoring is to ensure that employees are not stealing company time to attend to their own personal activities; a behavior likely to have an adverse impact on their productivity and by extension, the company’s performance. However, some employees feel that the use of computer monitoring services is an infringement into their privacy and a violation of their ‘right’. In deed, many employees find computer monitoring to be intolerable and feel like caged lions when their every move is being monitored.

Thus in organizations where monitoring of employee computer usage is intense, morale and productivity is diminished by the “Big Brother effect. ” UNDERSTANDING EMPLOYEE MONITORING Various studies and reports have established that quite a number of employees use company computers to visit porn sites, update their resumes and visit online dating and shopping sites among others. A survey by Accountemps Network Appliance, Inc revealed that the average American employee spent approximately 56 minutes of each working day to attend to personal activities using the company’s internet services.

That most of these activities are carried out during work time translates to huge losses for the company. As a result, many employers have decided to monitor the internet activities of their employees (Kuehnis, 2005). This observation is reiterated by Stanton (2006) who says that a company’s bandwidth is usually taken up when employees use the company’s internet for non-business purposes such as reading the news, online shopping, downloading of music as well as visiting pornography sites.

As Igbaria and Tan (1998) point out, time is of essence in the face of competition among various organizations, especially on matters connected to information technology. It is important for every aspect of time to be properly managed so that the business reaps the highest profits. It is also important for workplace computers to coordinate their work for effective teamwork that will improve business performance. This is hardly possible if a section of employees are misusing their computers and spending a significant amount of time on private activities instead of contributing to the team effort at the work place.

As a result, employers are increasingly feeling the need to monitor the internet activities of their employees. In a survey carried out by the American Management Association, it was found that approximately 75% of employers in America were monitoring the internet activities of their employees so as to prevent inappropriate computer usage. 65% of these employers also used software to prevent their employees from accessing certain websites.

Slightly more than half of the employers who monitored their employees reviewed and retained their e-mail messages and a third of them tracked keystrokes as well as how much time was spent by the employees at the keyboard (“Employee monitoring”, 1993). It was also established that more than 80% of employers who monitored their employees’ internet activities communicated to them about such practices. Approximately 84% of them had policies which governed the use of e-mail and 81% had policies governing the use of the internet for personal activities.

Other than computer monitoring, some employers are also monitoring telephone calls at the work place that are made using business phones. Employee monitoring is also extended to the correspondence between the employees themselves whether in form of electronic mail or telephone conversations (“Employee monitoring”, 1993). METHODS OF MONITORING COMPUTER USAGE There are several systems of monitoring and surveillance of computer usage at the work place. Security logs are the most fundamental type of user surveillance and through them; employers can analyze all logged data and locate any policy violations.

Version control is a more sophisticated method and involves layering of all new modifications of file contents above the old ones so that if need arises, the earlier versions can be retrieved. This is especially useful in tracking any information theft. Most companies also keep a record of electronic mail messages that are accessed or sent using the company’s internet. Another means of computer monitoring is through the use of web tracking systems which prevents the employees from accessing certain websites.

Keyloggers which capture all information that users enter into the computer using the keyboard, application usage trackers which keep a record of software used by employees and the duration of use as well as file types; and screen capture programs which capture information displayed on a user’s computer screen are some of the methods used by employees in order to monitor what their employees are up to at any given time using the company computers (Stanton, 2006) IMPLICATIONS OF EMPLOYEE MONITORING

A recent survey established that out of some 301 American companies interviewed, more than 78 of them had dismissed an employee within a one year period for failing to adhere to company policy on e-mail usage. Obviously, employers feel very strongly against the violation of workplace policies which can run their businesses at a loss, as 69 of those interviewed revealed that their businesses had been adversely affected by inappropriate internet usage which exposed sensitive as well as embarrassing information (NOCB, 2008).

However, while the importance of employee monitoring services cannot be overlooked, it raises various ethical and legal concerns. A quick analysis of the surveillance methods above shows that thanks to the monitoring and surveillance systems, employees are not entitled to privacy at the workplace. Debate on the privacy of employees has become a highly controversial issue with divisions emerging among those who advocate for employee monitoring and those who oppose it. Arguments against employee monitoring

The opponents of computer monitoring have stated clearly that it is an unfair practice and an infringement on employee rights. The rights of the employee guaranteed by the United States include among others, the right to good faith and fair dealing, as well as the right to work in a non hostile environment. Privacy means that employees have a right to control any information that they deem private. This implies that employee monitoring, interferes with the employees’ right to privacy.

It is claimed that monitoring of employee activities makes them uneasy at the work place, increases their level of stress and as a result, adversely affects their health. Such occurrences will therefore inevitably decrease the morale and job satisfaction of employees, prompting them to look for other workplaces where they feel relatively free and less under pressure. This may lead to a high employee turn over rate (Schminke, 1998). Due to lack of proper laws to regulate employee monitoring, there is a great potential of it being abused.

It is possible for employers to use their monitoring to collect unnecessary data that goes beyond the employee’s job performance. Questions are also raised on who has access to private employee information and how it will be used. Fears have been expressed of the possibility of using information that has been gathered in such a manner as to discriminate against the employees such as through using the information thus acquired to identify whistleblowers and other perceived dissidents such as the union organizers.

It is also possible for such information to land in the hands of co- workers or even prospective employers, thereby hindering the progress of the employee especially if he or she is perceived to be a threat to other employees such as through whistle blowing (Mishra & Crampton, 1998). The possibility of such information being accessed by fellow workers is due to the sending of such information over the company’s web. This data can easily be detected by any user who has some computer utilities that can detect network traffic flowing through their systems.

Some users are even able to disable these surveillance systems (Stanton, 2006). Questions are also raised on how the monitoring is implemented, how fair it is, and its effects on the quality of life at the work place (Mishra & Crampton, 1998). Several studies have revealed that employees who are monitored complain of higher stress levels at the work place as a result of constantly being watched by ‘big brother’. They report heavier workloads, less variation of tasks, a feeling of being isolated accompanied by a fear of losing their jobs.

Monitored employees also reported dissatisfaction with their work and no job involvement as opposed to employees who are not monitored. Such complaints have serious impact on the health of employees and many of them register psychological as well as physical health problems. Some of the registered complaints include pain in various parts of the body such as the neck, shoulders and back. Stomach problems such as acid indigestion, headaches, fatigue, depression, a racing heart among other complaints have also been registered. Employees also register feelings of being harassed, violated and overdriven to work as slaves.

This may lead them to feel angry, paranoid and unsure of how to behave at the work place lest they are accused of violating the policies of the workplace (Mishra & Crampton 1998). Arguments for employee monitoring Proponents of employee monitoring feel that electronic monitoring is an indispensable tool in enhancing business performance. By limiting the amount of time wasted by employees attending to personal activities on the internet, businesses are able to improve their quality, enhance service delivery, decrease their costs and ultimately increase their productivity.

It has also been suggested that the use of employee monitoring increases job satisfaction as well as morale of employees. This is because such monitoring leads to more objective and unbiased means of performance appraisals and gives accurate performance feedback (Schminke, 1998). This is because the evaluation is based solely on the output of the employee as opposed to the opinion of the managers which at times may be subjective. Such feedback is believed to have a positive impact on the employees’ future job performance.

Most employers argue that the knowledge that they are being monitored will make decrease laxity and make the employees work harder. This will improve their productivity since they would not wish to get a poor performance appraisal. Through monitoring, employers can tell quite easily the hard workers from the unproductive ones who only exploit company resources for private gain. Such knowledge is very important and can be used to enhance the efficiency of the workforce, deciding those who are the best candidates for promotion and salary raises without being accused of being biased (Mishra & Crampton, 1998).

Employers feel that it is within their rights to protect their businesses from falling apart due to laxity of employees or dispensation of company secrets to a third party. It is also important for employers to protect themselves from lawsuits that may arise due to information being sent from their company computers that may contain incriminating information or from employees using software which the company has no authorization to access which may lead to claims of copyright infringement. Employees may also be using company resources such as credit cards to shop on-line and an effective monitoring system will help curb this trend.

It is also possible for individuals who are not employees of a company to hack into the company’s computer systems and use it for their own private gains or even to defame the company, hence the need of an effective system of monitoring to track down such activities and protect the company (Mishra & Crampton, 1998). As Anandarajan and Simmers (2003) point out, openness is a very crucial element of the internet and can expose the company to a myriad of problems due to the expanded boundaries within which people can interact.

A lack of organizational control can therefore place the company at risk of increased liability due to information misuse by the employees. Stanton (2006) concurs that it is inappropriate to let employees who have access to corporate information run wild and suggests due diligence so that everybody’s activities are monitored. Employee actions on the internet have a major influence on the information security of a company. It is feared that some of them may use the information of a company for private gain or for revenge such as through exposing information to outsiders.

It is also possible for malware such as viruses to be introduced to a company’s resources when exposed to outsiders. Computer monitoring can help deal with such threats by disallowing the task to be performed. On the matter of exposing an employee’s private information, Stanton states that employees will have to make informed judgment on what messages to send or not to send so as to avoid catching grief when their private correspondences are exposed. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION An analysis of the arguments for and against employee monitoring raises legal and ethical issues.

Ethical issues arise from the possible infringement of employee privacy. Individuals like to feel that their personal space is respected and where it is not, as in the case of monitoring of computer usage they may feel violated and disrespected. As Mishra and Crampton (1998) pointed out, most of the monitored employees registered a myriad of physical and psychological health complaints as the “big brother” effect takes its toll on them; hardly the stuff that a productive workforce is made of.

In deed, even as the benefits of computer monitoring are cited, it is clear that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. No employer wants to work with an unmotivated work force as this will greatly hamper productivity and no employee likes being constantly watched by “big brother”. On the other hand, employees cannot be left to waste company time by using company resources for non-business related purposes. Employers are therefore torn between preventing wastage of company time and motivating the work force.

They can perhaps consider a compromise between the two issues, such as allowing employees to view non-business related sites at specified time periods (Greenlaw & Prundeanu, 1997). This will reduce the time wasted during working hours for private activities while at the same time, make the employees feel less enslaved to their workplace since they have a break in which to use the internet for their own activities (Anandarajan & Simmers, 2003). It is worth noting that many employees acknowledge the need for employers to watch over their internet activities.

A study carried out by Accountemps Network Appliance, Inc revealed that 70% of employees feel that their employer is entitled to monitor their internet activities. However, the indiscriminate usage of computer monitoring can damage the well being and productivity of a worker. Thus it is evident that the morale and productivity of employees is diminished only if the monitoring of computer usage is very intense. The best solution therefore would be for “big brother’ to relax, but not completely do away with, his monitoring policies (Greenlaw & Prundeanu, 1997).

In this age of internet dependence for personal and professional use – email, chat, gathering information, research and recently, social networking, employers need to be aware that employees will invariably access the internet for their personal use during the workday. Ensuring that such access is conducted without violation to the employer’s security policies is the key to ensuring harmony in the workplace. REFERENCES Anandarajan, M & Simmers, C (2003). Managing web usage in the workplace: A Social, Ethical and Legal Perspective. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Inc. As e-mail use soars, legal issues also rise.

New Orleans City Business, FindArticles. com. May 26, 2008. 25 Feb 2009. <http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_qn4200/is_20080526/ai_n25463203> Employee Monitoring: Is there privacy in the workplace? March 1993. Fact Sheet 7: Workplace Privacy July 2008. 26 Feb 2009 <http://www. privacyrights. org/fs/fs7-work. htm> Igbaria, M &Tan, M (1998). The Virtual Workplace. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Inc Kuehnis, T. (2005) Monitoring employee computer use in the Workplace. Associated content: Business and finance. 14 Nov 2005. 26 Nov 2009 <http://www. associatedcontent. com/article/14445/monitoring_employee_computer_use_in.

html? cat=3> Mishra, J. M & Crampton, S. M (1998). Employee Monitoring: Privacy in the Workplace? SAM Advanced management Journal 63 (3) Schminke, M (1998). Managerial Ethics: Moral Management of people and processes. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Stanton, J. M (2006). The Visible Employee: Using Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance to Protect Information Assets–without Compromising Employee Privacy Or Trust. Medford, N. J: Information Today, Inc. Greenlaw, P. S & Prundeanu, C (1997). The Impact of Federal Legislation to Limit Electronic monitoring. Public Personnel Manageme

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