Isyour BOSS Spying Onyou?
Ever feel like you’re being watched at work? You might be…
It’s 9.30pm and you’re wide awake, yet swapping the new series of First Dates for an early night. You’re not ill or hungover – just terrified of being scolded by your boss for staying up late. Welcome to a new way of working, where fitted ‘badges’ count each loo break, analyse every email and ruthlessly scrutinise our sleep and exercise routines. Long gone are 4pm lulls spent devouring the latest celeb gossip on Look.co.uk, cooing over videos of kittens or sending the obligatory ‘What shall we have for dinner?’ message to your other half. In fact, you might be better off checking the latter with your boss – she’ll probably have a say on that too.
The wearable devices, created by ‘people analytics’ company Humanyze, use sensors to collect staggering amounts of data – from what time we hit the sack to assessing how well we get along with colleagues. The product is just one in a wealth of tracking devices aimed at yielding productivity. Too shy or too loud, passive in meetings or a serial interrupter, they have the ability to, at best, encourage a more productive version of ourselves or, at worst, showcase our flaws.
It’s easy to see why some employers want to keep tabs on their staff. According to a recent survey, 89 per cent of employees admitted to wasting time at work, with at least four per cent spending half their day on unrelated tasks. Clare Gower, a freelance copywriter, was regularly monitored in a previous role.
‘My last client insisted I installed a time-tracking programme called Hubstaff,’ says Clare.‘it takes screenshots of your computer every few minutes, which are then uploaded onto a server for the employer to review – the employee has no access. The software – which I dubbed “that f***ing tracker” – also monitors how many keystrokes you’ve made. I was only allowed to pause the tracker when I went to the bathroom or ate lunch.’
Clare adds: ‘If I forgot to turn it back on, I’d lose money. It’s also used to calculate pay, so even if I’d been working for eight hours, I’d get paid for less. I can see why it appeals. The “if you’ve got nothing to hide it shouldn’t matter” logic prevails and megalomaniac managers love it. However, I think an eight-hour working day is
predicated on thinking, doing, conversing and having breaks to recover from periods of high concentration. This way of working effectively bills the employee for the human element of work.’
A recent study by social networking company The Draugiem Group revealed that 17-minute breaks followed by 52 minutes of work is the ‘optimum’ amount of downtime needed for maximum productivity. While this might be tricky in most places, it does go some way to acknowledging the need for time out.
Rachael Beech* is a PR account executive. During her previous role, she not only felt pressured to maintain uninterrupted periods of work but she was also tracked through emails.‘if I was emailing journalists I’d have to blind copy-in my managing director,’ she says. ‘I felt like I was in school. They would also often log into my account and send emails on my behalf, using my name.’
At least four UK companies are believed to be using Humanyze’s badges, including parts of the NHS and a major high street bank. While it might sound daunting – and in some cases illegal – it’s not uncommon. ‘It may come as a surprise, but many kinds of monitoring are completely legal, whether it’s a tracker on your company car or visibility of your email,’ says Ben Taylor, consultant and cyber security expert at Bestvpn.com.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that wearables at work are set to rapidly increase – and not only among officebased jobs. According to market research company Tractica, shipments of wearables to industrial customers and businesses are predicted to rise from 166,000 units in 2013, to 27.5m by 2020.
Craig Hall is an operations director at Glass Digital, a marketing agency in Newcastle, where monitoring employees is an everyday practice. The company uses Rescue Time, which tracks every website visited and knows when colleagues are away from their desks.
‘We first implemented monitoring due to issues with people taking their roles for granted,’ says Craig. ‘Since, it’s evolved into finding aspects of the job that staff are struggling with and creating a process to help them reach their potential.’ Melissa Gannaway works for Craig as an outreach executive and says she doesn’t have any issues with being tracked. ‘I have nothing to hide. In fact, it’s good for your professional development as you can work out areas you can be more productive in.’
Many people dislike the idea of being ‘watched’ at work – but should employees be more open-minded? Can this kind of monitoring lead to increased productivity? We asked the founder of SEVEN Career Coaching, Evelyn Cotter, for her verdict. She believes we should focus on how the information is being used and reminds us that we might not even realise we’re being watched…
‘Although monitoring is probably “right” for certain businesses, for example security firms, it can be counterproductive for others,’ Evelyn says. ‘Data for businesses is obviously hugely valuable – it’s just about how the information is being used. I’m sure there are organisations already doing this without the employee knowing. But monitoring toilet breaks, interactions and email content could create an unhappy working environment.
‘More importantly, how people are managed will determine how they behave – people rise to our expectations and lower to them too. Companies could consider their recruitment approach. Hiring the right people could mean these products are unnecessary.’ We agree. But it looks like they’re here to stay. You have been warned. The boss is watching…
I had to pause the tracker when I went to the toilet
Look out, she’s behind you!
Keep typing: some devices can track how many keystrokes you’ve made