Skip to main content

From the Covid pandemic to the “overtime epidemic": how workplace monitoring technology has to change

Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pixelbay
(Image credit: Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pixelbay)

With the pandemic forcing many people to work from home for the first time, some business leaders became fearful that productivity would be wounded, with one business leader believing remote working meant “economic ruin”. Ensuring people are ‘productive’ whilst they work from home seems to be at the forefront of many business leaders’ minds. With around 60 percent of large companies now using employee tracking software, it’s clear businesses are eager to keep an eye on what their employees are doing whilst remote working. 

This new approach to monitoring staff, along with the blurred work-life boundaries, has led many to feel uneasy, insecure, and paranoid at work which in turn has fuelled an overtime epidemic. And with the rise in popularity of the hybrid working model, more managers are wanting to keep a closer eye on their workforce whilst they work remotely.  This new management practice of monitoring technology will likely start to become the norm and integrate into the workplace.

Decision-makers now find themselves having to tackle this new workplace issue and a shift to a more ethical use of monitoring tools and implementing gamification techniques is one answer. 

What is monitoring software?

Monitoring software generally gives employers access to their employees’ browser history, GPS location, screengrabs of desktops and even access to audio and video features on employees’ devices. Such behavior conveys an underlying tone of mistrust from the employer leaving staff feeling undervalued, demotivated and ‘spied on’. Furthermore, once known it is in place, it’s likely employees will find a way to ‘beat the system’; it will become a cat and mouse game rather than something that helps improve productivity levels. For example, employees may be aware they’re time spent online is monitored and may find ways to ensure they appear online more frequently than they actually are.

As the ‘great resignation’ draws closer, with the main cause of it being because of the way employers treated staff during the pandemic, retaining staff will be key. Employee wellbeing and tackling the problem of workers working longer hours will swiftly move up the c-suite’s agenda and rather than monitoring technology causing more harm to the workplace, it can help to resolve this and other staff retention issues.

Switching the end-user – how productivity software can be used by employees

It’s not the monitoring technology that’s the problem, it’s how it’s used. According to data from StandOut CV, 94 percent of the top employee monitors track their employees’ time and activities at work. While this may inform managers as to what their employees are doing, it will do little to instil loyalty in employees and even less to tackle the emerging ‘overtime epidemic’.

Employers ought to give staff access to their data as this will give them insight into their working habits. For example, monitoring software can shine a light on employees who check their work emails whilst on leave or past working hours. 

Once employees have visibility of this, businesses can then implement gamified strategies to drive behavioral change. This behavioral change should primarily benefit the employee but also benefit the business – a happy workforce leads to greater productivity and financial rewards. Identifying employees’ logging off times via monitoring software could lead to business leaders introducing streak games that encourage long sequences of behavior, such as logging off by 6pm. 

Companies could also use technology to ensure their workforce takes exactly a one-hour lunch break every day to help encourage a healthier work/life balance whilst people work at home. Such developments will help employees feel their well-being is valued by their employers and will drive positive behavioral changes amongst the workforce.

While monitoring software can be incredibly intrusive if used in the wrong way, the business leaders who implement this technology using gamified techniques to support staff in making positive behavioral change will see business benefits. 

How business leaders can future-proof monitoring software

One of the key ways to ensure monitoring software does not become a spying tool is for managers to not have access to individuals’ data. If the software is used to give employees insight into themselves and for company leaders to understand its workforces’ working habits at a top-line level (rather than individual), it’s likely to be welcomed by employees as opposed to resisted. It’s also crucial leaders are transparent and open about the use of such software as well.

For monitoring software to have longevity, it needs to be measuring the right behavior. If a business leader wants to drive productivity and is measuring how many hours a day people are ‘working’, this would likely encourage a burnout culture as people will work longer hours but not necessarily harder. This counterproductive approach would lead to poor business outcomes – instead business leaders need to plan and work out where they can best drive positive behavioral change within their organization.  

As well as ensuring monitoring software is used cautiously, managers also need to trust their workers. This will be the ultimate way to make employees feel truly valued. Whilst monitoring software will help to ensure managers and business leaders know exactly how their workforce is spending the working day, if used in the wrong way, it’s likely to bring about hostility and resentment. Clear communication and complete visibility on company’s policies will also help to increase employee loyalty and retention, making firms more resilient to the ‘great resignation’. Sending daily updates, morning/afternoon team calls, and instant chat functions will give managers the right platform the be as open as possible.

It’s clear there are positive takeaways from monitoring technology that can help to end burnout and overtime working cultures, but it’s crucial they’re used carefully, if not they could act as a catalyst to the problem, not a solution. And, with the shift to the hybrid working model evident, with many businesses having to permanently pivot their ways of working, unnecessary problems will not be welcomed. 

So, what’s the solution? Transparency, careful planning, and communication are what will ensure monitoring software become the solution to the overtime epidemic and not add fuel to the fire.

Marcus Thornley, Founder, Play Consulting

Marcus Thornley, Founder, Play Consulting