Electronic Monitoring Systems

Electronic Monitoring Systems

Monitoring refers to systems, people, and processes used to collect, store, analyze, and report the actions or performance of individuals or groups on the job (Alge 2001, Ball 2010). Our focus here is on electronic monitoring and surveillance systems (Riedy & Wen 2010). Monitoring today may assume a variety of forms: telephone, video, Internet, and GPS. In the past, courts have generally sided with employers who have chosen to monitor their employees, arguing that because monitoring takes place during work using organizational assets (e.g., corporate computer networks, electronic mail), monitoring is acceptable (Kidwell & Sprague 2009).

Many organizations are equipping machinery, shipments, infrastructure, devices, and even employees with networked sensors and actuators that enable them to monitor their environment, report their status, receive instructions, and take actions based on the information they receive. This is what is meant by the expression “the Internet of Things.” By monitoring these organi- zational resources in real time, companies can better control the flow of operations and avoid disruptions by taking immediate actions and engaging in preventive solutions when problems arise. Organizations are also developing policies about using blogs and social networks such as Facebook outside of work, and this can affect employees’ perceptions of trust and loss of personal control (McNall & Stanton 2011). Although social media have fundamentally changed the ways people interact with information, it is important to note that the term social media does not refer to a specific technology, but rather to a family of technologies with a common set of ideals at the core of their design (Landers & Goldberg 2014). Such ideals include the following: Users should be able to generate their own content to share as they wish, information should be provided free and honestly, personal opinions from unbiased persons can be trusted, and the mob is wise. Obviously not all of these ideas are met in practice.

Monitoring per se is neither good nor bad; it depends on how it is implemented. Monitoring can certainly be beneficial, as self-initiated systems demonstrate. Systems that enable employees to track their activities at work have led to increases in productivity by helping people to understand better how they are allocating their time (Osman 2010). This understanding allows workers to reallocate their time, tasks, and activities to accomplish goals at work more effectively.

A comprehensive review of research in this area (Alge & Hansen 2014) concluded that attitudes in general, and attitudes toward monitoring in particular, will be more positive when organizations monitor their employees within supportive organizational cultures. Supportive cultures allow employee input on the monitoring system’s design, and focus on groups of employees rather than singling out individuals, and on performance-relevant activities. Theoretical and empirical researchers have identified three additional features of monitoring systems that contribute to employee perceptions of fairness or invasiveness (Ambrose & Alder 2000; Kidwell & Bennett 1994a,b). These are consistency in how data are collected and used, freedom from bias (e.g., selective monitoring), and the accuracy of data collected. Conversely, when monitoring systems are perceived as invasive or unfair, organizations run the risk that employees may not comply with rules and procedures, slack off on the job, or engage in deviant behaviors (Alge et al. 2010, Zweig & Scott 2007).

One additional factor that can be associated with electronic monitoring systems is stress. When organizations impose control they reduce autonomy and increase perceived job demands—both factors that contribute to burnout (Maslach & Leiter 2008, Nixon & Spector 2014, Schaufeli et al. 2009). Evidence indicates that close supervision is associated with increased stress (Lu 2005). With electronic monitoring a supervisor or higher-level manager need not even be present to monitor. As a result the potentially unceasing, continuous capability to monitor creates an unrelenting type of control that employees often regard as particularly stressful. As a general conclusion, when

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