Recently, a senior attorney and three colleagues stole realms of confidential data from a global services company. This theft continued unabated for an extended period of time — until the company’s employee risk monitoring platform detected a reportable company policy event. The platform automatically sent a management alert about one lawyer’s driving under the influence arrest, which revealed misdemeanors for separate theft and fraud incidents. Following the platform’s compliant protocols, management investigated and uncovered both internal data theft and other internal culprits, terminating this employee and preventing further destructive activity.
This incident highlights how modern workforce complaint monitoring can deliver tangible benefits to companies and their workforce. With the explosion of technology and media use in the workplace comes a wave of new challenges for business leaders, who now must monitor employees for concerning behavior more closely than ever. Doing so is becoming increasingly important — and also more complicated.
Not all employers have implemented successful monitoring programs. One substantial reason for this lack of implementation is their failure to differentiate between monitoring and surveillance. Though the terms seem synonymous, in the world of cybersecurity and risk management, they couldn’t be more different. Monitoring is the compliant consent-based oversight of the workforce, transparent, well-defined monitoring builds trust. Surveillance is the covert tracking of employee activities without their consent. Properly implemented monitoring — not surveillance — benefits both employers and their workforces. Fortunately, this is not as difficult as it may seem.
Many companies are already catching on. Global demand for monitoring software in the first quarter of 2022 surged by 73% over 2019 quarter one. That demand also was up 57% across 2022 over 2019 — a larger increase than 2020, when more workers were remote for most of the year.
Effective monitoring systems focus on detection of abnormal or negative behaviors. This enables organizational mitigation, supporting employee retention and creating a healthy workforce. They help identify early evidence-based indicators of struggling employees who before would have become an increased risk. Instead, the company can proactively assist employees by uncovering derogatory information, and prevent and address other internal wrongdoing.
Modern monitoring securely limits exposure of employee’s personally identifiable information. Only the employer’s staff and selected leadership typically can access data, precluding information from existing in non-secure records. This also prevents targeting, retaliation and harassment.
Monitoring should employ advanced anonymization, allowing algorithms to assess behavioral information and eliminate bias, favoritism and discrimination. Leaders may custom filter the data under evaluation to meet organizational policies and employment terms — as well as requirements from vendors, government entities and clients.
Behavioral alerts can be integrated with other internal data or shared across the employer’s system to craft more comprehensive assessments. Unlike surveillance, these processes are not driven by data mining and searching for negative employee activity. Instead, managers typically receive secure, proactive and same day messages with continuous risk alerts and evaluation, replete through actionable insights. Each employee’s case actions and alert history are archived to support pattern identification. Additionally, these details and any ensuing decisions are securely logged and retained for compliance audits later.
Driven by employee consent to participate in a secure, helpful program, effective monitoring systems also create shared safety and security objectives. With best-in-class platforms, employee reporting portals support on-the-record and anonymous incident reports. Employees are encouraged to share concerns, fostering more trust between themselves and management and better connecting troubled employees with assistance resources.
Employee consent illuminates a critical difference between monitoring and surveillance.
Companies that do not conduct compliant risk management at the outset put themselves at elevated peril of lawsuits, reputational damage, and fractured work cultures because they are implementing surveillance systems that can violate privacy rights. The private sector, state and local governments spent $351 million to resolve charges related to employment discrimination alone through mediation, conciliation and settlements in Fiscal Year 2021, for example.
To avoid this unnecessary risk, employees must be informed and agree to be monitored. Monitoring by definition is consent-based — whereas surveillance implies no express consent given. Surveillance lacks transparency and fosters a confrontational culture, as its primary objective is to find bad actors and take punitive action against them. This quickly sets an “us versus them” work environment instead of a shared risk reduction model.
A 2021 study found that 44% of employees are not at all informed about data collection in the workplace. Another study noted that one in five employers are not likely to tell their staff if they implement tracking software. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that more than half of employees said they would likely quit their job if surveillance measures were adopted, with one in four saying they would take a pay cut to evade them.
Yet opportunities for monitoring done right abound: More than 90% of employees are willing to let employers collect and apply data on them and their work. They are concerned chiefly about how their employers might use that data. Those concerns are not unwarranted: Only 30% of executives whose companies use workforce data reported being highly confident they themselves use it responsibly in every case. This underscores just how essential it is that employers understand how to properly use the monitoring platforms that they need to keep their data and employees safe.
As global demand for behavioral monitoring continues to grow, leaders should think through applying these programs and ensure they understand the distinctions between monitoring and surveillance.