Employers Monitor Remote Workers Causing Resentment

An ExpressVPN’s survey highlights workforce sentiment regarding telecommuting, employer monitoring software and more. While many employers are tapping these technologies to monitor workflows, the report highlights potential drawbacks and even resentment among surveilled employees.

“Employee monitoring has always been an important privacy issue, but the pandemic has ushered in a new era of heightened surveillance that is incredibly concerning. In addition to fracturing the level of trust between an employee and an employer, it can make the workplace a hostile environment for workers and puts us one dangerous step closer towards the normalization of surveillance,” said Harold Li, vice president of ExpressVPN, in a press release.

According to Gartner, employers increasingly use monitoring software to keep an eye on day-to-day operations. In fact, 75 percent of work conversations could be recorded and assessed by 2025.

Companies throughout the world have adopted remote work policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, according to the survey, 74 percent of employers said telecommuting “makes them feel a lack of control over their business,” and 69 percent said the work model makes them feel “uneasy” since “they can’t observe employees in person.”

Fifty-seven percent of employer respondents acknowledged they don’t trust their employees to work “without in-person supervision” and a similar number reported the same sentiment about employees working “without digital supervision.”

The majority of bosses, 78 percent, admitted their companies use software to “track employee performance and/or online activity” and more than half have incorporated these technologies in the last six months, according to ExpressVPN.

The most common activities monitored by employers include web history and the amount of time on these sites, apps used and time spent using these apps as well as screen monitoring in real time. Additional monitored activities include “active work hours” and log times, “periodic screen capture” and chats and messaging logs.

The report also lists various “surveillance activities suspected by employees” and this includes “active work hours” and log times, email (inbound and outbound), web history and time spent browsing these pages as well as chats and message logs.

The survey found that 81 percent of employees are using at least one company-issued device and about half of the respondent employees know their company is “actively monitoring their communication and online activities.” About 17 percent didn’t know it was even possible for companies to “monitor their communication and/or online activities.”

On the employer side, 90 percent of respondents said they “actively track time spent by employees doing work [versus] other activities unrelated to work.” About three-quarters said stored recordings (calls, messages and emails) have “informed an employee’s performance reviews” and 46 percent said they had fired a worker based on “information collected related to their remote work.”

One-third of employees said they have used a company computer for “purposes that they’d find embarrassing should their employer find out.” These potentially embarrassing purposes include using a work computer to chat and communicate with a partner or friends, web searches around medical subjects or “potentially embarrassing bodily functions.” Other listed uses include chats or messages with other employees, “visiting job application websites” and web searches around their romantic life.

The report also delves into the stresses and anxieties these surveillance tools can cause employees. For example, 59 percent of employees report “feeling stress and/or anxiety about their employer surveilling their online activity.” Other top stressors include people “constantly wondering whether they’re being watched,” feeling pressured to work extended work hours and taking less frequent breaks.

Nearly half of employees (43 percent) believe that monitoring software is a “violation of trust” and 28 percent of employees say these tools make them feel “unappreciated.” One-quarter (26%) said these monitoring tools make them “feel resentment.”

The survey was conducted from April 15 through 21 and involved 2,000 employers and 2,000 fully remote or hybrid workers.