As employee monitoring technologies move out of the realm of experimentation and into the mainstream, concerns over their impact on employee privacy, data security, and trust have become even more pressing. In a breakout session at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London on Wednesday, Principal Executive Advisor Clare Moncrieff elucidated the difference between the kind of employee monitoring we trust and that which we don’t. She began by asking the attendees if they agreed with the following statements:
- “Recording the location, actions and communications of employees is a necessary and important part of business operations.”
- “Recording the location, actions and communications of commercial airline pilots is a necessary and important part of business operations.”
Responses to the first statement were mixed, with about half the audience saying they agreed or strongly agreed and the other half saying they disagreed or felt neutral on the subject. On the other hand, every single attendee agreed with the second statement. What’s the difference?
One reason why the recording of commercial airline pilots was uncontroversial is that it has been a standard practice in the industry for nearly 60 years. Flight recorders (commonly referred to “black boxes”) are understood to be a normal and necessary component of air safety procedures. Their value in diagnosing and correcting problems that can lead to catastrophic accidents is unquestioned, and everyone—passengers, crew, airline administrators, regulators, and the public—understands and appreciates why they are needed.
Pilots don’t see these devices as intruding on their privacy, even though they record every conversation they have in the cockpit, because their benefits are clear and because airlines only use the information for a specific and clearly defined purpose. Data from the recorders is only accessed after an incident and is never shared or published. Black box data has never been used for purposes other than intended and there has never been a known breach of flight data security in six decades of using these recorders. Also, data from flight recorders is only one of many inputs into an inquiry, which also incorporates first-hand accounts from the flight crew.
Flight data recorders meet all the key criteria of an effective employee monitoring system, according to our research at Gartner: The purpose and beneficiary of the technology is clear and consistent, access to the collected data is strictly controlled, and employees’ voices are taken into consideration when interpreting the data. When monitoring follows these guidelines, employees are much more likely to trust and accept it.
When an employee reveals their intention to quit in favor of a better job at a different organization, it’s not unusual for an employer to try to persuade them to stay by offering them a higher salary. Indeed, such counteroffers are so commonplace that unhappy employees will occasionally solicit outside job offers just to pressure their current employer into giving them a raise. Yet new research from the global staffing firm Robert Half finds that while most US employers make counteroffers to departing employees at least some of the time, they usually fail to retain these employees for the long term.
In an online survey of over 5,500 senior managers in a variety of professional fields across the US, 58 percent said “yes” when asked whether they ever extend counteroffers to employees to keep them from leaving for another job. However, when asked how long employees who accept counteroffers typically remain with the company, the mean response was 1.7 years:
“Counteroffers are typically a knee-jerk reaction to broader staffing issues,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. “While they may seem like a quick fix for employers, the solution is often temporary. When employees accept a counteroffer, they will likely quit soon afterward.
Professionals should avoid these offers, McDonald advised. “Money doesn’t solve everything. If you accept a counteroffer, your employer may question your loyalty to the company. And, more importantly, the root causes of why you were looking to leave in the first place may still exist.”
The staffing firm cautions both employers and employees against counteroffers for several reasons, noting that they can cause morale to suffer by sending “the message that threats of leaving are a means of climbing the ladder, rather than outstanding performance and dedication.” An employee retained with a counteroffer will often be distrusted for the remainder of their tenure with the organization, while their performance is unlikely to improve, knowing that the firm was willing to spend money just to keep them around a little longer.
The clearly superior alternative to counteroffers is to proactively identify employees at risk of quitting and give them reasons to stay before they go out looking for a job somewhere else. According to our research at CEB, now Gartner, this means creating compelling career paths for employees, including ample opportunities for learning and professional growth, so they can see a long-term future for themselves as part of your organization.
Michel Anteby, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, and Curtis K. Chan of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management teamed up on a research project wherein they interviewed 89 Transportation Security Administration employees and their managers to learn more about how these employees responded to the camera surveillance systems that had been installed at their airport workplaces in 2011. The closed-circuit television cameras were motivated by complaints from travelers about their belongings getting lost or stolen during TSA screenings, the authors explained recently at the Harvard Business Review, so the managers “decided to install cameras to catch employees in the act of thieving, or to demonstrate to travelers that theft was not occurring by their employees’ hands at the checkpoints”:
But even if managers had intended for the monitoring efforts to protect employees from false accusations, the prevalent sentiment expressed by TSA employees was that managers were watching them to control them, making sure that every single, little thing that they did was exactly and precisely as planned. TSA officers expressed the sense of constantly being seen by higher-ups. … Officers used words like “Big Brother” and “spying” to articulate how managers were monitoring them, suggesting strongly that they really did not like the feeling of constantly being seen.
At the same time, however, officers expressed that even though they were constantly seen, they were almost never noticed.
Walmart is piloting a new dress code in some of its US stores that will give employees more options for what they can wear to work, Bloomberg’s Matthew Boyle reported on Thursday:
Employees … will now be allowed to wear shirts of any solid color, rather than just blue or white, according to an employee manual obtained by Bloomberg News. Blue jeans are also permitted — as long as they’re solid blue — whereas previously only khaki-colored or black denim pants were allowed. Visible facial tattoos are forbidden for those hired after April 14, the manual said. …
Some Walmart workers embraced the dress code changes, with one saying on an employee message board: “I would love this! I hope it comes to my store.” Others were skeptical that it would get past the testing phase, which began in fewer than two dozen stores this month.
Walmart last adjusted its dress code in 2015, when it gave its US employees permission to wear black or khaki-colored denim pants and let workers with more physically-intensive jobs wear t-shirts to work instead of collared shirts. That change came after a new dress code the company adopted the previous year—requiring white or navy collared shirts, khaki or black pants, close-toed shoes, and a new design of the big-box store’s branded blue uniform vest—was poorly received by employees, Hayley Peterson adds at Business Insider.
At the Harvard Business Review, Tensie Whelan and Carly Fink discuss the business case for sustainability, which they write “can increase employee loyalty, efficiency, and productivity and improve HR statistics related to recruitment, retention, and morale”:
Research is finding that 21st century employees are focusing more on mission, purpose, and work-life balance. Companies that invest in sustainability initiatives tend to create sought-after culture and engagement due to company strategy focusing more on purpose and providing value to society. In addition, companies who embed sustainability in their core business strategy treat employees as critical stakeholders, just as important as shareholders. Employees are proud to work there and feel part of a broader effort.
One study found that morale was 55% better in companies with strong sustainability programs, compared to those with poor ones, and employee loyalty was 38% better. Better morale and motivation translate into reduced absenteeism and improved productivity. Firms that adopted environmental standards have seen a 16% increase in productivity over firms that did not adopt sustainability practices. Corporate responsibility performance also positively impacts turnover and recruitment. Studies show that firms with greater corporate responsibility performance can reduce average turnover over time by 25-50%. It can also reduce annual quit rates by 3-3.5%, saving replacement costs up to 90%-200% of an employee’s annual salary for each retained position.
Amanda Shantz’s research focuses on how HR management practices are perceived by employees, and how those perceptions influence morale and performance. At the LSE Business Review, she presents the findings of some recent work she and her colleagues conducted to find out whether employees believed HR’s main purpose was to help them improve their performance or to save their organization money. Drawing on Fritz Heider’s attribution theory, they hypothesized that these perceptions would affect how employees felt about their jobs, and as it turned out, they were right:
At a large construction and consultancy organisation in the UK, 180 employees answered two questionnaires that were administered 12 months apart. The results of our analyses of this survey data corroborated our theory. Specifically, we found that employees who believed that their organisation’s HRM practices were designed to increase their performance were more likely to be involved in their job, leading to higher levels of wellbeing. Conversely, those who believed that HRM practices were designed to decrease costs felt burdened by their work, and had lower levels of wellbeing.
The findings of our research has direct implications for how organisations communicate the intent of the HRM practices that they administer. If employees perceive that these practices are meant to reduce costs – regardless of the actual strategic intentions – they experience increased workload and emotional exhaustion.