This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center based on the original study.
Dr. Jessica Vitak and Dr. Michael Zimmer examined employees’ attitudes toward workplace monitoring practices in the aftermath of the pandemic, where a wide range of technologies were used to track employees’ workplace communication, behaviors, and performance. Specifically, they studied how employees evaluated the appropriateness of and expressed concern regarding four dimensions of workplace monitoring practices. These dimensions included the type of data collected by employers (data attributes), the purpose for that data collection, who had access to the data (actor), and how long this monitoring would take place (transmission principle). They further examined whether these attitudes differed between male and female employees.
In fall, 2022, the authors conducted an online factorial vignette survey (combination of survey and experimental design methods) with 645 U.S. adults. The respondents had been with the same organization throughout 2020 and had transitioned to remote work for part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1.) The research identified the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate monitoring as perceived appropriateness.
2.) As data attributes became more sensitive and/or nonwork-related (e.g., health data), employees’ perceived appropriateness decreased, and their concern increased. This was especially the case among female employees.
3.) As the purpose for surveillance data collection became less clear and went beyond traditional workplace goals (e.g., ensuring productivity or information security), employees’ perceived appropriateness decreased, and their concern increased.
4.) If coworkers or team members at a similar level in the organization had access to the data, employees’ perceived appropriateness became low, and their concern became high.
5.) Male employees reported higher concern and lower appropriateness than female employees when knowing direct supervisors and HR had access to the data.
6.) When the length of monitoring was ambiguous or unknown, employees’ perceived appropriateness became low, and their concern became high.
Implications for Practice
Organizations are recommended to adopt workplace monitoring practices that are considered justified by employees, such as tracking employees’ work communication, evaluating productivity metrics, and ensuring the follow-through of security protocols. Additionally, organizations need to identify and understand what concerns employees regarding workplace surveillance and why. Furthermore, organizations should pay more attention to female employees’ views regarding any new form of workplace monitoring that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vitak, J., & Zimmer, M. (2023). Surveillance and the future of work: Exploring employees’ attitudes toward monitoring in a post-COVID workplace. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 28(4), zmad007. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcmc/zmad007