Monitoring Employee Conversations: How Far is Too Far?


As a business leader, monitoring employee conversations can be a tricky landscape to maneuver. Employee monitoring laws can be complicated, leaving plenty of scope for interpretation and allowing business owners to make their own decisions when it comes to just how far they’ll go.

Business app discovery specialists GetApp recently updated their 2015 research for 2019, hoping to see how the attitudes of business owners have changed in the last four years, especially considering the introduction of new GDPR regulations. The survey asked 173 respondents in management positions or above how they felt about monitoring employee conversations.

Invasion of Privacy

With such strong focus on data privacy since the launch of GDPR, you might expect to see a decreased impulse for businesses to increase their employee monitoring activity. However, the research showed that employers are becoming less concerned with potential invasions of privacy. In 2015, 38% of those asked said they’d class monitoring employee conversations as an invasion of privacy, but in 2019 it dropped to 10%.

Why, in a world where data privacy concerns are growing, are businesses becoming more likely to monitor employees?

Data privacy, and the increased focus around this, could hold the answer to this question. Data privacy is important across the board, so companies are moving to find a balance between protecting the privacy of their colleagues and protecting their own company.

Comparing 2015 to 2019

The survey uncovered several changes in the four years between 2015 and 2019, with many results pointing to an increase in the monitoring of employee conversations. In 2019, 72% of businesses have access to employee conversations taking place on internal communications tools, compared to 56% in 2015.

It’s not just the access to monitoring tools that has increased, the amount of time employers spend keeping an eye on conversations is also rising. In 2015, around a quarter of employers said they monitor employee conversations on a daily or weekly basis. By 2019 that figure has risen to almost 50%.

Why are Businesses Doing This?

Numerous factors could be contributing to the rise in employee monitoring. First, advances in technology. Access to monitoring tools has changed in recent years, as previously mentioned there has been a 16% increase in the number of businesses that have access to the tools that help them access employee conversations, this makes it easier for employers to deploy them on their workforce. On top of this, the increasing numbers of employees who work remotely means that physically monitoring staff has become much harder.

As previously mentioned, the increased focus on data privacy brought about by new GDPR regulations has possibly had the biggest impact. Employers now find themselves more conscious than ever about the risk of employees sharing sensitive data.

What are the Rules?

The rules can vary depending on the industry you work in. For example, those working in a heavily regulated industry like finance may find that communications need to be monitored to guard against more severe consequences of a data leak. Employees are protected to some extent by privacy laws; however, in some businesses this isn’t always the case.

Each country has its own regulations when it comes to data privacy. Companies are often found monitoring employees for reasons such as the investigation of potential criminal activity by their employees and investigating any internal complaints.

How Can My Business Monitor Employee Conversations?

For any employer, it’s important to remember that monitoring conversations is a sensitive subject and could lead to employees feeling like their privacy has been invaded. It’s important to act with caution and follow some simple best practices:

Block Certain Sites: In some situations, getting to the root of a problem and stopping it happening before it becomes an issue is the best solution. If you want to avoid employees viewing certain websites and potentially wasting company time (for example on social networking sites) simply have them blocked by your IT department.

Be Honest: If you plan to monitor your employees – just tell them the truth. If you make this clear from the start, you’ll avoid employees feeling like you’re being sneaky and avoid grey areas.

Set the Rules: As well as being honest about your plans to monitor employees, set your rules out early on. Outline what employees can and can’t do on your internal IT systems, making it easy for them to understand your expectations.

Less is More: It’s well-worth considering an approach that assumes employees are following guidelines, unless you are alerted to a potential issue or spot issues with productivity. Keeping a light touch when it comes to monitoring will help you steer clear of privacy infringement.

Monitoring employee conversations and use of IT systems can form a healthy part of your internal security policy. Following some of these simple steps will help you protect your business from potential problems whilst avoiding any infringement of employee privacy rights.

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