What is Employee Monitoring? – Definition, Tips, and Techniques (New Guide)

Employee Monitoring - what you need to know

Employee monitoring is a form of workplace surveillance where employers collect data regarding their employees computer usage, location, and productivity. This guide will detail the various methods that employers use to monitor their employees, the pros and cons of employee monitoring, and provide helpful resources for creating your very own employee monitoring strategy.

Table of Contents

Why Do Employers Monitor Employees?

  • Bandwidth management: Network monitoring software tracks bandwidth usage to identify the abuse of bandwidth hogs such as Netflix, Twitch, and YouTube.
  • Employee productivity: Employers use employee monitoring software to monitor internet usage for excessive unproductive web activity.
  • Workforce management: Employee monitoring is a great workforce analytics tool. Monitoring employees provides valuable data for informing high-level business decisions.
  • Data loss prevention: Employees that have access to sensitive files will have their computer activity closely monitored to protect against data breaches and insider threats. 
  • Legal liability protection: Employers are responsible for the activities of their employees. Employee monitoring improves visibility into employee work habits and acts as an early warning system of unacceptable behavior.
  • Software asset management: Underutilized software cost businesses in the US and UK an estimated $34 billion per year. Employers monitor employee application use to determine whether they are over-licensed or under-licensed. 

Types of Employee Monitoring & Their Uses

Web Activity Tracking

Employee Productivity Report

The 2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey from the American Management Association (AMA) found that 66% of employers monitor employee internet use. 65% of those surveyed also use web filtering software to block websites. Employers primarily monitor and restrict internet access to prevent employees from accessing inappropriate websites.

Why do employers monitor employee web activity?

  • To help enforce acceptable use policies by discouraging the use of pornography & other inappropriate websites
  • To improve bandwidth efficiency by identifying unnecessary bandwidth hogs
  • To ensure that employees aren’t excessively browsing unproductive websites such as social media and computer games sites

Computer Activity Monitoring

AccessPatrol files operations report with 15 different file operations listed.

Computer activity monitoring is a catch-all term for monitoring computer events such as application use, USB activity, websites visited, screenshots, and logon activity. 94% of organizations use some form of computer activity monitoring to improve productivity and security. 

Why do employers monitor employee computer activity?

  • To see whether or not applications are being used as expected
  • To detect high-risk file transfers to removable media devices
  • To verify the active hours of employees that have computer-based roles

Email Monitoring

Yellow email letters flying out of a laptop computer.

43% of employers in the American Management Association report monitor the email activity of their employees. Email monitoring is typically done with automated tools that scan for keywords, though 40% of the employers in the report stated they use manual email monitoring methods.

Why do employers monitor employee emails?

  • To detect unsafe or unauthorized file sharing 
  • To monitor the quality of employee communications
  • To deter the use of inappropriate or offensive language
  • To deter excessive personal use of company-provided email accounts
  • To meet data security compliance standards

GPS Tracking

GPS and other forms of location tracking are a niche form of employee monitoring that is not as widely used as computer usage tracking. The use of location tracking is often reserved for roles where frequent travel is required. Employers will often use location tracking on company-provided vehicles and mobile devices.

Why do employers use GPS tracking?

  • To recover company-provided mobile devices when they are lost or stolen
  • To monitor the mileage and routes taken by company vehicles (truck or delivery drivers)
  • To improve the safety of employees that are working in dangerous conditions (emergency responders, employees in remote locations)

Keylogging

Keylogging (keystroke logging) is a highly controversial employee monitoring practice. Keyloggers track the individual keyboard inputs of employees and save that data for review. Keyloggers may be hardware or software based.

As these tools capture individual keystrokes they pose significant security and privacy concerns. They are likely to capture sensitive information including passwords, credit card details, and other sensitive data. Storing sensitive data within the database of a keylogger is dangerous as unauthorized users or hackers could potentially access that data. For this reason they are rarely used. 

Why do employers use keyloggers?

  • To track the average words-per-minute of data entry employees
  • To detect insider threats that are sharing private information or executing suspicious commands

Video Surveillance

Video surveillance is commonly performed through closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems. These technologies are commonly used as security systems rather than for measuring productivity. It is common for companies that interact with the public to use video surveillance in locations where there are concerns surrounding the security of employees and theft of company assets.

Why do employers use video surveillance?

  • To counter theft, violence, sabotage, and other undesirable behavior
  • To monitor employee performance and attendance

Call Monitoring

Employee telephone monitoring is most often used to monitor the performance of phone-based customer support roles. Calls are often recorded to investigate complaints, assist in employee training, and ensure that employees are adhering to the quality standards of the organization.

Why do employers monitor telephone calls?

  • As a quality control measure for call centers
  • To ensure the quality and consistency of sales calls 
  • To prevent employees from using business phone lines inappropriately

The Pros of Employee Monitoring

Greater Employee Productivity

A female employer showing a male employee how to increase productivity with web monitoring and filtering software on a laptop computer.

The 2017 State of the American Workplace report from Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. By monitoring employees an organization can discover early warning signs of disengagement such as excessive unproductive web browsing. 

Reduced Software Expenses

Application Tracking - Save Money on Unused Software

Underutilized software cost businesses in the US and UK an estimated $34 billion per year. Employee monitoring detects redundant or underutilized software that can be decommissioned or consolidated. 

A Better Understanding of Workforce Trends

Historical data helps businesses understand productivity and engagement trends throughout their workforce. With this data, they can answer questions they may otherwise not have enough insight for. 

  • Do we have departments with consistently high utilization rates? Are they overworked? Is there an opportunity to grow the company in this area?
  • When are our remote workers most active?
  • Are employees making use of the new software we implemented? If not, do they need more training?

Improved Detection of Shadow IT 

A man sits at his desk working on a computer. The shadowy figure of a colleague looms behind him.

Shadow IT refers to any system, solution, or software that’s used without approval from the IT department. Gartner has predicted that by 2020 a third of successful attacks on enterprises would be made possible by shadow IT exploits. Monitoring employee computer usage provides greater visibility into the use of shadow IT.

Greater Protection Against Data Breaches

Personal data phishing concept background. Cartoon illustration of personal data phishing vector

Organizations that collect, process, and/or store sensitive data are responsible for the security and integrity of that data. Employee monitoring is regularly used in regulated industries such as healthcare, finance, and defense to maintain data security compliance. 

According to a Verizon report 58% of data loss events in healthcare involve insiders, making insider threats the greatest data security threat in that industry. Monitoring activity on data egress points such as USB storage devices and file sharing websites is crucial for detecting incidents of data theft and unsafe data handling.

Improved Working Conditions & Reduced Legal Liability

Internet abuse in the workplace presents a significant risk if left unaddressed. Employees that visit hateful, pornographic, or otherwise harmful websites while at work create a hostile work environment for their coworkers. Failure to monitor for and address this type of behavior undermines organizational performance and creates serious legal liabilities for employers.

While internet use policies set standards for internet use in the workplace, without some form of electronic monitoring employers risk being unable to detect and deter egregious web browsing.  A 2003 study by Dr. Kimberly S. Young & Dr. Carl J. Case found that among large firms, electronic monitoring software was rated as the most effective deterrent of inappropriate web use, followed by policies and training.

The Cons of Employee Monitoring

Employee Morale

Overly invasive employee monitoring can have a negative effect on employee morale. Employees that are not aware that they are being monitored, why they are being monitored, and how they are being monitored are less likely to find employee monitoring acceptable.

To reduce the effect on employee morale employers should make monitoring a standard workplace policy rather than singling out individual employees. They should also avoid using employee monitoring as a micromanaging tool. Ensuring that their employees retain their autonomy when being monitored will go a long way to reducing the potential effects on morale.

Employee Privacy

A man types on his laptop keyboard. A bright light with a lock icon shines in front of the screen.

Employee monitoring data has the potential to be incredibly sensitive. Employees may worry that their data will be misused or accessed by unauthorized parties. Employers need to treat employee monitoring data the same way they would any other sensitive data, providing it with equal protections such as restricting who can access the data and keeping it within a secured network. 

Depending on the types of monitoring taking place employees may also worry that their personal lives are being monitored. Employers must do everything they can to limit monitoring to only what is necessary and keep their monitoring solutions separate from the personal lives of their employees.

Want to learn how to monitor employees while respecting their privacy?
Download our FREE whitepaper: Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring: Best Practices for Balancing Productivity, Security, and Privacy

Legal Considerations

California Consumer Privacy Act

In the majority of jurisdictions employers have a right to monitor employee activity on company-provided devices. That said, data privacy frameworks such as GDPR mandate that employers use monitoring methods that are as minimally invasive as possible to meet the needs of their business. 

Businesses that monitor their employees should consult with a legal professional to ensure that their intended methods are not in conflict with any laws and regulations.

Employee Monitoring Best Practices

Free White Paper

Employee Monitoring: Best Practices for Balancing Productivity, Security, and Privacy

In today's privacy-conscious world employers need to monitor employees in a way that is transparent, minimally invasive, and respectful of employee privacy. Read this white paper to learn the best practices for monitoring employees in the workplace.

Be Transparent

Paper document that says "Internet Usage Policy"

“If organizations wish to monitor their employees, they should be clear about its purpose and that it brings real benefits. Organizations also need to make employees aware of the nature, extent and reasons for any monitoring”

Spokesperson from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office

Employers that want to monitor employee computer activity should notify their employees. Many companies will start by using acceptable use policies to disclose their intent to monitor. Combining company policies with other notification measures will help keep employees informed.

  • Disclose the scope of employee monitoring during onboarding and within employee handbooks
  • Ensure that employees understand how their data is being collected, what is being monitored, and how their data will be used
  • Allow employees to access their own data so they can see exactly what is being collected 
  • Clearly state the intended purpose for monitoring employees
  • Involve a representative sample of employees during the planning process to proactively address any privacy concerns

When employers openly discuss their intention to deploy an employee monitoring solution, employees are given an opportunity to engage in a dialogue where they can preemptively express their concerns and become educated on the employer’s intended use of the data collected. 

Avoid Monitoring Too Much

Image: Computer Spy, Shadowy Figure with digital background
“Employers must not use tech to control and micromanage their staff. Monitoring toilet breaks, tracking, and snooping on staff outside working hours creates fear and distrust. And it undermines morale.”
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC)
  1. Do not track more than necessary. Only collect, store, and use the types of data that are adequate and relevant to the goals of the business. 
  2. Only use monitoring data for the stated purpose. Lack of predictability leads to increased perceptions of invasiveness among employees. Only use employee monitoring data for its stated purpose. This will improve employee’s trust and reduce effects on morale.
  3. Do not monitor personal devices. Employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy on their personal devices, even if they use them for work purposes.
  4. Limit data accessibility. Computer usage data may be sensitive. Restricting access to monitoring data to a “need to know” basis limits opportunities for misuse. 

Use Employee Monitoring Data Fairly

  1. Avoid singling out individual employees. Singling out individual employees creates perceptions of unfairness that lead to decreased job satisfaction. Addressing the data of individual employees should be reserved for instances of high risk and clearly objectionable behaviors such as accessing pornography in the workplace.
  2. Monitor employees equally. To avoid perceptions of discrimination, employees should be monitored and assessed equally (e.g. monitor both in-office and remote workers). This can be extended further by including managers in the monitoring ecosystem.
  3. Do not use computer activity data as the sole indicator of performance. Computer activity does not provide a full context into an employee’s productivity. It is normal for a productive employee to have periods of time where they are temporarily inactive on their workstations as they can be engaged in other job-adjacent tasks.
  4. Do not make significant decisions solely based on employee monitoring data. Decisions that have a significant effect on employees such as promotions, job retention, and salary negotiations should not be made solely using employee monitoring data. These types of decisions require human intervention and external factors to ensure that the evaluation is fair, accurate, and adequate. 

Monitor Employees With CurrentWare

Are you ready to take charge of your organization’s productivity and security? CurrentWare is here to help. Contact our sales team to sign up for a free trial of our employee monitoring software and see first-hand how employee monitoring can transform your workplace.

CurrentWare Customer Shady Maple

“The employees find the reports to be an extremely helpful self-analysis tool, and use the reports to analyze and reconfigure priorities!”

Track Websites Visited

Top Domains Visited Report - Employee Internet Activity

See What Applications Are Being Used

BrowseReporter's computer monitoring report with daily application usage by users

Monitor Bandwidth Usage

BrowseReporter Bandwidth Usage by Sites report with 13 different URLs listed.

Compare Productivity of In-Office and At-Home Workers

BrowseReporter employee productivity report with a comparison between in-office and remote activity.

Monitor Search Engine Queries

BrowseReporter Keywords Searched by Time report with 9 different keywords listed.

Track File Transfers to USB Devices

AccessPatrol's file operations report. It lists file transfers to USB devices with source and destination paths listed.

Employee Monitoring Resources

The Ultimate Guide to Employee Monitoring
This in-depth guide provides an employee monitoring software buyers guide, tips for creating an effective employee monitoring strategy, and legal considerations for employee monitoring.

Free Internet Usage Policy Template
A free internet usage template for you to download, customize, and use. Disclose the use of employee monitoring software in your organization and set standards for internet use.

Workplace Privacy and Employee Monitoring: Best Practices (White Paper)
A free white paper that employers can use to develop a privacy-first employee monitoring strategy.

SHRM: Managing Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance
Guidelines surrounding the legality of monitoring employees in the workplace.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
A valuable resource for researching and understanding Europe’s data privacy law.

Monitoring Employees in the Workplace: 6 Privacy Tips for Employers
Want to start monitoring employees in the workplace? These tips will reduce impacts on employee privacy so employers can maximize the benefits of their employee monitoring strategy.

How To Use Employee Monitoring Data
Employee monitoring is a powerful workforce analytics tool. This article provides examples of how organizations can use employee monitoring data to improve their business intelligence.

Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland is a Marketing Coordinator for CurrentWare, a global provider of endpoint security and employee monitoring software. Dale’s diverse multimedia background allows him the opportunity to produce a variety of content for CurrentWare including blogs, infographics, videos, eBooks, and social media shareables.