Employee monitoring: Considerations for HR

While workforce analytics has benefitted HR, concerns surrounding data privacy and security are growing.

It’s no secret employers collect a large amount of data on their employees in the name of talent strategy, but new research shows HR is gathering a lot more information than just workplace behaviour.

A survey in the US from the HR Metrics & Analytics Summit has revealed that organisations are tracking employees more closely than ever, particularly around social media use, as well as other personal sources of information.  

Some firms have even started employing wearable devices to monitor their people.

Data privacy concerns

Asked what they thought about being monitored, employees found it the most acceptable to be monitored through workplace-related tasks, work email, and work phones as they felt these were “related to concrete business goals”.

The most unacceptable monitoring platforms are private social media accounts, physical movements and interactions within the workplace, which they feel are too “personal”.

Furthermore, as employee monitoring becomes more commonplace, there are ethical questions and risks involved with data security, transparency, and communications standards, says Summit Content Editor Tiffany Ramirez.

Although 85% of HR leaders at present have set privacy and security guidelines regarding what employee information is collected, how it is stored, and if it is used appropriately, approximately 15% do not have guidelines.

"Companies are collecting and analysing unprecedented quantities of unstructured data and it has created a new outlook on the capabilities of workforce analytics," says Ramirez.

"Although these capabilities have created a lot of excitement, they have also generated anxiety and debate. While the benefits of these capabilities are potentially game-changing, data privacy concerns are rising."

In fact, nearly half of all workers surveyed said they do not trust HR to protect their data. 

Legal implications of employee monitoring

These questions were examined in an in-depth whitepaper conducted by cybersecurity solutions provider Forcepoint and legal firm Hogan Lovells earlier this year, which found that the legal implications of workforce monitoring differed from country to country.

In some jurisdictions, organisations have broad authority to monitor workforce use of information assets. In others, organisations may need to avoid processing personal communications, and analyse private communications and information only where there are reasonable suspicions of misconduct.

Many countries require that workforce monitoring programmes are only implemented after consultation and consent from workforce representatives or individual employees.

In the US, for example, federal law provides that organisations are exempt from liability to the extent that they monitor their information systems for cybersecurity purposes. But in Finland, employers are generally prohibited from accessing the contents of communications sent to or received by employees.

“Any workforce monitoring programme must be proportionate, respectful and transparently deployed to ensure the continued trust of the workforce,” said Allan Alford, Chief Information and Security Officer, Forcepoint.

“It’s a careful balancing act: employees and employers must work hand-in-hand to protect each other. We all want better protection for ourselves and our important information and data, but monitoring when, how and why employees interact with various corporate data has some clear and important privacy implications.”

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