As the workplace as we know it continues to digitalize, some processes such as workplace surveillance may have been expanded within companies. To help SMEs get a fuller picture of the uses, benefits, and sentiment around employee monitoring software, we surveyed over 750 employees in Canada.
What we will cover
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses turned to digital tools to adapt their tasks to support remote work. Managing employees virtually presents specific challenges, however, and some companies have chosen to use monitoring software to provide insight into employee workloads, productivity management, and for timekeeping and HR purposes.
Workplace surveillance practices are not without controversy. Although designed to give managers virtual oversight of employees, some data-collecting practices can leave employees with concerns over their privacy and security.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the privacy rights of Canadians in the workplace, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is lacking a clear policy. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada pledged to contribute to the expansion of private-sector legislation, but business owners may need clarity on how to appropriately collect, use, and safeguard employee data they can monitor in the meantime.
To gauge the current use and perception of these tools, Capterra Canada launched a survey of 752 part- and full-time employees in Canada (for the full methodology, scroll to the bottom of the article).
Which workplace activities are being monitored?
What are the most common types of employee monitoring occurring in surveilled workplaces? According to the survey-takers currently using monitoring tools, most (81%) are using tools to track employee attendance. Considering the shift to remote work that some workplaces have experienced, managers and HR professionals may be using this kind of digital tool to keep track of working employees, a task they were previously able to perform simply by looking around the office.
The most used tools are focused on employee presence and performance, two areas where managers have lost visibility due to the growth of the digital workplace. However, it seems very little surveillance of personal information was reported by survey respondents. Only 7% of employees have their personal social media monitored by employers, and 1% say their health is being tracked via wearable devices.
Outside of Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec, there are no concrete laws on how much of employee data may be monitored, although unionized workplaces can organize agreements including such rules. This does not mean companies have no responsibilities towards employee privacy, however. Employees are able to report concerns regarding invasions of privacy or misuses of data to the Privacy Commissioner, possibly inciting investigations of an organization’s privacy practices.
Use of workplace surveillance in Canada
Currently, 35% of Canadian employees surveyed work in a company that uses at least one employee monitoring tool – 28% of whom have been using them since before the pandemic and 7% whose employers implemented these tools after the arrival of COVID-19.
While the majority of workers surveyed (47%) say their employers are not using any employee tracking software, this may vary depending on their position in the company. Employees at management level reported they were not under workplace surveillance at higher rates than those in entry-level positions, showing that employee surveillance may be used more often for those with lower ranks.
The reasons for the disproportion likely relate to the levels of employees’ uncertainty over their company’s surveillance practices. Less experienced employees are more likely to be unsure about monitoring policies in their workplace. Managers were least likely to be unclear about such practices, as they may have had a hand in deciding to implement them.
From a more general viewpoint, nearly one in five (18%) said they weren’t sure if these tools were actively used in their workplace. This uncertainty could imply a lack of transparency and communication of policies regarding workplace surveillance and employee consent.
Consent to monitor employees in the workplace
Some provinces may be in the process of legislating the disclosure of electronic monitoring to employees, but they are currently not obligated to do so. The majority of employees working in companies using monitoring software have been trained on it and/or have signed consent agreements (37%), but not all employees were provided the same information.
Outside of those who’d signed consent agreements, the following levels of information were reportedly provided by employers to employees being monitored:
- 24% were verbally informed
- 23% were informed via email
- 16% were not informed at all
Informing employees about monitoring practices and expressly asking for their consent are not the same thing, however. Asking for consent before using surveillance software implies that employees would have the right to decline. Though 40% of survey-takers asked to use monitoring software in their workplace accepted it because they felt OK with it, 23% said they felt insecure about not accepting it and a further 18% admit to accepting it out of pressure.
Employee sentiment around digital monitoring in the workplace
When the use of employee monitoring software is debated, the question of how these practices make employees feel is raised. Amongst monitored survey-takers, most (65%) said the implementation of monitoring tools had no perceived effect on the work environment. Still, a portion of monitored respondents (23%) did feel it made the workplace more “hostile,” as in it added more stress to the job.
Despite the pressure staff could feel being monitored at work, those being monitored via software mostly felt it was implemented for beneficial reasons. According to respondents, companies had the following reasons for implementing employee monitoring software:
- 47% believed it was used to improve productivity
- 25% believed it was to verify employees worked their exact hours
- 13% believed it was to track their workload
Perceived pros and cons of employee surveillance
Most employees surveyed (65%) don’t believe that being monitored would have any impact on the way they work, though 35% disagree (with 16% who think it would make them work harder and 19% who think it would make them work less hard). As the implementation of workplace surveillance measures can influence the at-work dynamic for some employees, it’s important for SMEs to consider the pros and cons before imposing changes.
As for the benefits of employee monitoring tools, respondents thought the software could provide managers with more visibility into daily business activities, which could help them streamline workflows or identify bottlenecks. Other benefits were also related to helping employees, for instance ensuring they are paid correctly and not overworking themselves.
Despite the benefits that workplace monitoring can provide to employees, concerns surrounding the software remain. Nearly three out of four employees surveyed (72%) thought these practices could lead to an invasion of personal privacy. 71% also thought they could have a negative impact on trust.
Although these are significant concerns, they could be more general fears rather than company-specific ones. When asked if they thought their company would violate privacy laws to monitor their work, most (60%) believed their employers would respect the laws. A quarter (26%) thought their company might monitor more than they should in some exceptional cases, while only 14% thought their employers would break privacy laws to monitor all employees.
Considerations for employers
With many Canadians saying hybrid work makes them happier, employers considering implementing employee surveillance programs in place must be careful not to taint opinions of the remote workplace.
According to a report by Gartner, employees feel more comfortable being monitored if they know what is being monitored and why. Obtaining consent may not currently be a legal requirement in Canada, but it can help staff feel trusted and considered.
Other considerations include:
- Ensuring monitoring activities are in compliance with the latest privacy laws
- Keeping collected data protected with cybersecurity measures
- Providing information about monitoring practices in an accessible place like an employee portal
Capterra’s Digital Monitoring Survey was launched online in April 2022. The two-part survey was completed by 756 consumers and 752 employees. For the purpose of this article, we have focused on the employee group. The sample of participants is representative of the population of Canada regarding aspects of age and gender, and the criteria for selecting participants are as follows:
- Canadian resident
- Over the age of 18
- Must be a full- or part-time employee
- Not employed in an ownership position
- Be employed at a company with at least 2 employees
Able to identify the definition of an “employee monitoring tool” out of three multiple choice answers
NOTE: This document, while intended to inform our clients about the current data privacy and security challenges experienced by IT companies in the global marketplace, is in no way intended to provide legal advice or to endorse a specific course of action. For advice on your specific situation, consult your legal counsel.