This blog is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.
Much of our workplace conveniences are a result of advances in technology. However, more recently, it seems as though technology has opened the door for increased monitoring of employees to guarantee productivity outputs. For example, JP Morgan Chase was recently featured in the news for closely observing employees’ calls, calendars, and emails, which led to employees experiencing paranoia and distrust (Alexander, 2022). This is just one of many examples of organizations scrutinizing employees’ every move. Managers may think productivity will be enhanced by monitoring what people do, but it has the opposite effect, where employees are spending time “looking” busy for fear of not meeting the productivity standards. Ultimately, the lack of trust has long-term, negative implications for employee engagement.
However, what if management understood employee engagement as an ethical imperative? How would this change the treatment of employees and reimagine the workplace? Could this ethical approach establish a foundation of trust that is necessary for employee engagement and healthy workplaces?
My colleague and I recently conceptualized a framework that combined employee engagement and ethics of care as a way to reposition the way in which organizations treat employees (see Lemon & Boman, 2022). Threaded throughout the ethics of care model is the need for and value of the trust (Tronto, 2013). Here, the emphasis is on building trust, showing respect, and championing the needs of employees, whereas the emphasis is on relationship-based ethics (Formentin & Bortree, 2018). An ethics of care approach ensures that organizational decisions are made with employees’ best interests in mind because of their intrinsic value.
Monitoring employees’ workplace behaviors is the antithesis of ethics of care, which will most likely have negative implications for organizations. This begs the question of how an ethics of care approach can actually be applied to employee engagement.
Ethics of care applied to employee engagement no longer views employees as an asset on a balance sheet that need to be managed to make or break the bottom line. Instead, employees are held in high regard, and trusted to do the right thing, especially in their positions when no one is watching. First, organizations should consider removing or limiting monitoring tools. These resources (no matter how advanced) send the message to employees that you are not trusted, and the organization needs to keep tabs on you. Second, an ethics of care approach should underpin all strategies and objectives so negative practices like employee monitoring do not happen. Third, organizations could consider unconventional programming to support employees because it is the right thing to do. Such initiatives could include benefits like childcare, paid leave for family emergencies, support for additional education, and competitive vacation packages that ensure employees get time to relax and rejuvenate.
If you have a team of people or consult others who manage employees, what are some additional ways you could communicate that you trust and value them. How can you operate from an ethics of care foundation to enhance employee engagement in your workplace?
Laura L. Lemon, Ph.D. is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Alexander, R. (2022). JPMorgan employees describe growing ‘paranoia’ as the company tracks their office attendance, calls, calendars, and more — with one worker even installing a ‘mouse jiggler’ to evade ‘Big Brother.’ Business Insider. Retrieved on August 15, 2022. https://www.businessinsider.com/jpmorgan-chase-employees-describe-fear-mass-workplace-data-surveillance-wadu-2022-5
Formentin, M., & Bortree, D. (2018). Giving from the heart: Exploring how ethics of care emerges in corporate social responsibility. Journal of Communication Management, 23(1), 2–17. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-09-2018-0083
Lemon, L. L., & Boman, C. D. (2022). Ethics of care in action: Overview of holistic framework with application to employee engagement. Public Relations Review, 48(4). doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2022.102232
Tronto, J. (2013). Annual Meeting of the Western Political Science Association. In Democratic Caring and Global Responsibilities for Care. http://www.wpsanet.org/papers/docs/Tronto%20WPSA%20paper%202013.pdf.