Employee monitoring – Do we need strict rules?

It is sometimes necessary to keep a tab on employee activities, but not at the cost of spreading distrust

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There’s a thin line between surveillance and snooping but at times, the companies cross this without realising where to stop. The implications of this on the employees are many.

Industry experts believe that keeping a tab on employees in work-related matters is important to understand the progress that the company is making, holistically. However, overdoing this does have its repercussions, especially in the form of distrust between the employers and their employees.

“How much is too much? Where should the line be drawn?” HR Katha asks experts.

With the information technology (IT) boom, employers seem to have more power when it comes to monitoring their employees. While the trend is catching on, it is also leaving employees unhappy and full of mistrust. After all, no one wants to be watched all the time.

Companies believe strict monitoring will make their employees’ performance more transparent. However, in the absence of the right policies, this usually turns out to be a damp squib.

“Every group needs to have a set of norms to guide the effective functioning of the group. To ensure fairness for each member of the group, there should be an intent to make a difference, which boils down to two critical aspects –transparency and accountability”

Nilesh Kulkarni, CHRO, Bharat Serums & Vaccines (BSV)

Where and how to draw the line

The pandemic-imposed remote working culture has opened up the Pandora’s box of discussions pertaining to invasion of privacy amongst the employees. At the same time, the employers are struggling to decide where to draw the line without compromising the interest of their employees.

Alignment of goals: Shedding light on how and where to draw the line, Nilesh Kulkarni, CHRO, Bharat Serums & Vaccines (BSV), says, “Every group needs to have a set of norms to guide the effective functioning of the group. To ensure fairness for each member of the group, there should be an intent to make a difference, which boils down to two critical aspects –transparency and accountability.”

He observes that both can flourish in a self-monitored group, provided they are driven by each individual. “When the individual goals are in line with the organisational goals, employees thrive in a self-driven culture. This is what we aspire to build at BSV”.

Efficiency vs trust: According to Amar Sinhji, executive director, human resources, Khaitan & Co., “With the dramatic increase in remote-hybrid working, employee surveillance has been pushed to the forefront of all operational decisions.” He points out two aspects to employee monitoring — operational control and efficiency, and trust.

“We should have performance or delivery monitoring. Organisation should put meticulous checks and balances in place to ensure planned delivery or meeting objective, employee monitoring through strict rules will look more like a reform centre than an organisation and we would end up creating a very prison like organisation”

Satyendra Mallik, CHRO, Confidential

“For operational efficiency and processes, some kind of surveillance or monitoring becomes imperative, else the functioning of the organisation may become chaotic.”

Commenting on the other aspects of monitoring or keeping a tab on the employees, Sinhji says, “During this change from in-office to remote operations, employers have come to realise that by and large, trust will beget trust. Mostly, if given a task or a responsibility, employees left to their own means, will fulfil it in a given time frame. Hence, there should be no requirement for surveillance for the purpose of gauging trust.”

Exceptions: Speaking about distrust, Sinhji says that the outliers who misuse or abuse this trust can be dealt with separately, and brought under surveillance to keep a tab on their activities. Their productivity and the time they spend on work can be monitored to assess their performance, which will help the organisation.

“The only rules that should be implemented are, ‘Do the right thing’, ‘Do the best you can’, and ‘Always show people you care”

Deepak Deshpande, senior director, NTT Global Data Centres India

Sinhji said, “The culture of an organisation will determine the level of tapping of the activities it deploys on its employees, depending upon the business it is in.”

Strict vs sensible: Deepak Deshpande, senior director, NTT Global Data Centres India, vouches for sensible monitoring rules rather than the need of strict rules. He says, “We need rules to solve a problem. If one is unable to resolve an issue, then it is probably because one is only looking at things from the perspective of a rule book. This is nothing but an old habit that companies are afraid to change”.

He insists, “The only rules that should be implemented are, ‘Do the right thing’, ‘Do the best you can’, and ‘Always show people you care’”.

“The culture of an organisation will determine the level of tapping of the activities it deploys on its employees, depending upon the business it is in”

Amar Sinhji, executive director, human resources, Khaitan & Co.

He rightly points out that, “We don’t learn to walk by rules, we learn by doing and falling, and trying all over again”.

Deshpande sums up with a word of caution, reminding that HR and engagement go hand in hand. By strictly adhering to all the rules, one may risk missing out on a lot of fun, but that doesn’t mean one should go against the company’s interests either.

However Satyendra Mallik, CHRO, Confidential, believes, “Do we really need employee monitoring? No, we should have performance or delivery monitoring. Organisation should put meticulous checks and balances in place to ensure planned delivery or meeting objective, employee monitoring through strict rules will look more like a reform centre than an organisation and we would end up creating a very prison like organisation.

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