“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Stephen Covey

While it is typical and prudent for organizations to intentionally design structures and policies intended to mitigate risk, when it comes to trust in the workplace, is being too risk-averse actually a detriment?

Workplace trust is an issue that long pre-dates the pandemic, but the sudden move to remote workplaces sent the problem into overdrive almost overnight. In response, many organizations increasingly turned to employee monitoring technologies to mitigate their perceived risk.

The most commonly used technologies track physical movement through video surveillance and track computer, email, or phone use, by monitoring keyboard strokes, internet use, or social media posts. While the methods may vary, the goal is typically to determine whether an employee is actively working – or not. However, does employee monitoring collide with workplace privacy? And what is the effect on workplace trust?

Let’s look at three factors companies should consider when balancing the impacts of workplace privacy and trust.

1.     Just because you can monitor employees, does it mean you should?

Currently, employee monitoring is permissible in Canada if the process follows Canadian privacy statutes. However, in remote workplaces, the measures an employer could use to monitor its employees raise a number of privacy issues. As privacy and data protection concerns gain increasing visibility, businesses that choose to engage in employee monitoring may be risking liability.

In human resource terms, workplace trust is being eroded not only by the effects of COVID-19 but also as in a wider sense in workplaces. While monitoring employee behaviour may create a sense of control and a feeling of security for employers, ultimately, managers may end up lessening their ability to create a sustainable culture of trust within the organization. In this way, monitoring may be both ineffective and potentially problematic when it comes to maintaining privacy compliance.

2.     Monitoring employees is unlikely to give you the information you’re really looking for.

If your goal is to evaluate performance and identify top team members, employee monitoring is unlikely to provide the information you need. Simply put, collecting information like keyboard strokes or online activity between 9-5 is more akin to babysitting than management. If it is not effective as an employment management tool, it may be difficult to align monitoring strategies with the privacy rule of collecting the least amount of information for a reasonable purpose.

Whether at home or in an office setting, employees should be entitled to a reasonable level of privacy. While employers may have good intentions, businesses could easily find themselves coming dangerously close to breaching employee privacy when it comes to invasive employee monitoring techniques. Any monitoring undertaken must be done with the laws and organizational privacy policies in mind.

3.     A healthy workplace culture requires trust.

While it’s not hard to understand why a work culture that emphasizes micro-management or borderline spying on employees is likely to impact trust negatively, we often forget that trust is a reciprocal quality that cuts both ways. This means it is essential for managers to trust their employees, but it is also equally important that employees trust their managers. Surveilling your employees may be one of the most jarring signals you can send to your team that you don’t trust them. It’s also a serious intrusion into employee privacy – and protection of privacy is a key to maintaining employee trust.

Rather than focusing on the metrics provided by employee monitoring, managers may be much better off directing their energy towards creating a culture of mutual trust and accountability where employees feel empowered to take charge of their productivity and contributions. Organizations that can create work cultures of trust and flexibility through responsible privacy protection will be more likely to attract and recruit from a wider talent pool and see better employee retention rates.

Balancing workplace privacy, trust and productivity in 2021 will continue to prove challenging for organizations across sectors. If you are looking for support in creating sensible privacy policies that strike the right balance, the experts at Cenera can work with your team to ensure you have the tools you need. 

Reach out to us today to learn more.

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