The Ethics of Employer Monitoring and Productivity Tracking

Lynn Martelli
Lynn Martelli

In today’s digital workplace, employers have more ways than ever to monitor employee activities from tracking keyboard strokes to recording phone calls. While businesses argue this is necessary to boost productivity and security, critics warn it can cross ethical lines and damage workplace culture. There is a growing demand for discussions surrounding the ethical implications of employer monitoring and productivity tracking, encapsulated in the title “The Ethics of Employer Monitoring and Productivity Tracking. So where should the boundaries lie when balancing employee privacy against legitimate business needs?

Reasons Employers Monitor Workers

Most companies use some form of employee monitoring for reasons like:

Productivity: Software can track application usage, URLs visited and data entry to assess if workers stay on task. This aims to limit wasted time and encourage focus.

Security: Monitoring chats, emails and internet traffic allows companies to catch malicious activities like data leaks and block access to dangerous sites.

Performance Evaluation: Metrics on call times, sales conversations and project progress can inform staffing decisions and identify top and underperforming employees.

Legal Compliance: In regulated industries like finance, employee communications must be recorded and stored to meet legal obligations.

While often justified for supervision purposes, excessive monitoring can feel invasive if used improperly.

Drawbacks of Over Monitoring

Taken too far, productivity tracking tools raise serious ethical concerns:

They can create a culture of surveillance and mistrust between employers and staff. Employees may feel constantly watched rather than empowered.

Features like keyboard tracking seem unnecessarily intrusive given they monitor activities down to the last keystroke. This suggests a focus on micromanagement over actual productivity.

Data collected is prone to misinterpretation if not placed in full context. For example, a long browsing history does not necessarily equal wasted time if relevant research was conducted.

Monitoring toilet breaks, private messages and non-work applications crosses a line into infringing on reasonable privacy expectations. It leaves employees more stressed and unhappy.

Excessive control over how workers spend every minute can undermine creativity, critical thinking and skill development needed to thrive in knowledge economy roles.

Setting Ethical Limits

While technology enables vast employee tracking capacities, companies should carefully weigh business needs against wellbeing and privacy concerns before deploying invasive systems. Some best practices include:

  • Clearly communicate any monitoring policies and get employee consent for data collection that goes beyond core security and compliance requirements. Keep purpose-specific.
  • Allow reasonable personal internet use during breaks to prevent monitoring toilet visits or private communications. Ban surveillance outside of work hours without an evidenced risk.
  • Aggregate performance data and feedback at team levels before singling out underperforming individuals, to avoid inaccurately labeling struggles as misconduct.
  • Train managers to interpret monitoring data in a wider context of employee’s role objectives, working style and support needs. Avoid automatically equating time on a task to productivity without deeper analysis.
  • Give employees access to their own monitoring data if used for performance management purposes. Make the process transparent rather than one-sided.
  • Regularly reviewing monitoring policies against high ethical standards preserves professionalism and trust while still addressing genuine business supervision needs.

Employee Monitoring Software Example

Here are some common examples of productivity monitoring software that companies use:

Controlio – Controlio offers robust features to capture detailed analytics on employee device usage.

TimeDoctor – Tracks application and web usage, takes screenshots and records productivity metrics to monitor employee work patterns.

TSheets – Logs time spent on projects and tasks via manual time entries, computer usage tracking, GPS location data and more.

Hubstaff – Features activity levels monitoring, screenshots and activity logs to quantify productivity.

ActivTrak – Monitors all employee computer activity including apps used, websites visited, files accessed and meeting times.

Teramind – Captures employee desktop activity in video recordings, tracks website and chat usage while flagging excessive inactivity.

Veriato – Logs every keystroke and creates detailed forensics of computer usage to measure individual productivity.

Spector360 – Tracks chats, emails and VoIP phone calls while recording screens and websites visited. Flags abusive language or leakage of sensitive data.

The level of tracking varies from monitoring work time to literally surveillance of full workstation usage. Companies should match software capabilities to their ethical limits around employee privacy and fair performance evaluation.


As digital transformation provides more employee monitoring capabilities, companies must carefully self-regulate these technologies to prevent harmful overreach. While tracking tools can optimize workflows when reasonably targeted to security and productivity requirements, overly intrusive surveillance undermines company culture, creativity, trust and staff wellbeing over the long-term. By keeping purpose-specificity, transparency and work-life balance front of mind as limits, employers can ethically balance supervision needs with professionalism in the modern workplace. Continuous policy review ensures technology use remains in service of empowering performance rather than punitive productivity tracking alone.

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