Juggling Security Concerns and Employee Privacy
May 16, 2017
There has been a lot of discussion about cyber security in the news. Malware, hacking, etc., are of vital concern to the public and to companies across the globe. Having data compromised for a company can be devastating to the bottom line and people’s lives. Companies around the world actively engage in practices to prevent harmful computer viruses, as they should. But what about security measures directed toward their own employees?>/p>
There are a more than a dozen companies that offer various employee security and monitoring software. While they may differ slightly, they all monitor emails (content and destination), file usage and access, inactivity, social media usage, websites visited, and even keystrokes. The intention is to ensure employees are productive and efficient with their time. According to CNBC, the amount of time employees across the world “wasted” on Facebook totaled $3.5 trillion (in US dollars).
What about an employee’s right to privacy?
While I believe the use of employee monitoring software lays the foundation for distrust and breeds anxiety and stress, I also think it is a mistake for an employee to think his/her emails and activity are 100% private. Think about the legal possibilities: If the company is sued because of a damaging product, all emails from those people who could have had knowledge about the product’s potential damage will be subpoenaed. This means lawyers, both external and internal, will have access to all emails, including those considered “private.”
If you are in the position to make decisions about employee monitoring software, think long and hard about whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks to the company culture. How long do you think top-notch, qualified people will stay if they feel the senior management doesn’t trust them? In all likelihood, not long.
This is not to suggest that companies shouldn’t have a social media policy. They should. And, there should be consequences for low productivity. A good manager, however, should be able to tell when someone is not performing. It then is up to the manager to probe and ask the employee why his or her productivity has changed.
If senior management believes the employees are compromising sensitive data, then it behooves them to set up clear procedures and train the employees. While there may be a logical reason to utilize this type of software in those instances, this usage should be a short-term solution, not the long-term plan.
Creating a positive company culture in which employees feel valued is a deliberate process and one that will be impossible to cultivate when the company demonstrates any level of distrust.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director of Graduate Studies