Should you spy on your employees?

If you run a warehouse, you can spot pilfering by the number of empty boxes, or perhaps by noticing that employees are walking out with TV sets on their way home. But how do you spot abuse when yours is a knowledge warehouse? Brian Martin explores the controversial subject of electronically monitoring employee behavior.

Each day a significant portion of our working society spends the day trapped in a cubicle or office. They toil away over corporate owned computers trying to further the goals of their employers. Whether they work in a startup or corporate environment, employees are working up to sixteen hours a day on their computer, while their breaks and lunches often get melded into work time. As a result, breaks are spent checking personal e-mail, stock prices, online news, comic strips, and more. As a general rule, companies do not mind a little casual Internet usage that is not work-related, provided it does not violate company rules or interfere with assigned duties.

But what happens when an employee abuses the privilege or begins to consume too much work time using the Internet for personal reasons — spending weeks looking for (or even performing) another job, or lost among MUDs and MOOs, or posting or viewing questionable material on the Web, such as hate speech or pornography? Some managers feel that employee monitoring displays a lack of trust and is not ‘nice.’ What they must consider is that while it is not friendly, neither is being patted down before concerts or searched at airports. Yet we tolerate these things in order to enjoy a safer atmosphere that benefits everyone in the long run.

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