Checking a laptop for messages.


Image by Tim Sandle, of a computer being used in a workplace.

Employee monitoring software is to good management what bad breath is to romance – Avoidable. The days when managers and supervisors knew exactly what was happening without even looking have gone. In their place has come the most personally insulting form of technology for managers. This technology is based entirely on the assumption you can’t do your job.

This type of software (aka Bossware) is quite literally everywhere

An incident cited in this article on ABC News shows the logic:

  • The employee is absent from the desk for 45 minutes.
  • A report of the absence is generated.
  • Senior management gets involved.
  • An explanation for the absence is demanded from the employee.
  • Meetings are held.
  • Correspondence is issued.
  • A warning is given to the employee.
  • The net cost to the company of the employee’s absence was $27.   
  • Cost of the employee monitoring software plus management and company time on disciplinary action and lost time on other work, thousands of dollars. Add to this stress, the wonder cure for any sort of motivation.
  • The employee will now almost certainly leave, and you’ll have to spend time and money hiring and training someone else.
  • This process took weeks after the actual incident.

Bear in mind this ritual absolutely MUST happen, because that’s the procedure created by the software and HR management guidelines.  Nothing to do with managing anything or exercising rational judgment at all.

So –  Can you see any possible way of this ridiculous situation being good, cost-effective management?

There was no mention at all of the effects of the absence on the employee’s work. Did the employee have work to do? What if the employee, who didn’t even remember the incident, was doing something else?

Also note that for at least the last 15 years there has been management software that monitors actual work, not expensive pedantic exercises in futility. This incident probably didn’t even need mentioning, let alone a management crusade against it.

The elegant management theory behind this perspective is, “If the work’s getting done, what the hell do you care about anything else?”

Ah, but rejoice! There’s more!

Better still for managers, this type of software encounters active resistance from employees. Employees now spend some time finding out how to get around the monitoring and do it successfully.

This may have something to do with the mere existence of the software implying that the employer is some sort of stalking psychopath with nothing better to do. Keystrokes, KPIs, you name it; this data is all byproducts of what is actually being done, and specifically not valuations of the work.

For example –

5% of all data entered is wrong or needs correcting. Keystrokes, therefore, tell you as little as possible about data quality. Nor can this type of software do anything at all about what’s being entered or accessed.

KPIs, from personal experience, are very strange things. I did a job interview for a finance company as a client support officer. The accounts were superannuation and other financial products. I was given two minutes to deal with what could well have been a million-dollar account. A few interviews later, I didn’t get the job because I went a bit over two minutes on the KPI, despite top quality service. (In other words, I could have lost a million-dollar account by short-selling the customer, but would have had a great KPI.)

Screenshots are also taken. This is a great idea. It uses up system time, and memory, and of course, has to be evaluated by some duly qualified ignoramus who probably knows nothing about the actual work. Productive? No. Anything but.

More to the point, it can’t be productive in any sense. This is more like evidence-gathering than management. A quick walk around the workplace is always far more productive and makes it look like you actually exist.

The last word in hopelessly bad management? Maybe not.  

There’s hope for this class of software to get a lot worse. In theory, you could even monitor biological processes, body temperature, and neural activity, and perhaps monitor impure thoughts in employees.

“Smith, you were looking lustfully at the water cooler. Your readings show arousal bordering on actual biological activity, you swine.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. It was an accident. The way she sits there, full of water… “

“So, you want water, do you? To continue your existence or something else we’re not paying you for?”


You’ve just spent the time of two people on something that couldn’t possibly matter. Plus software costs, plus totally destroying a working relationship. Happy?

You can see how unproductive this can become.  Just do something else. Don’t spend a fortune on what could also just as easily be grounds for wrongful dismissal, harassment, etc. or get you committed to some thoughtful medical facility.  

Actually, you might be a lot safer, and saner, at the medical facility. Just a thought.


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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