What the future of staff tracking means for you

With so many of us using smart devices to track everything from the number of steps we take to the food we eat, it was only a matter of time before companies turned to electronics to measure staff performance.

Businesses from Amazon to Tesco and the Daily Telegraph have all been found using high-tech monitoring systems to keep an eye on employees’ work.

Tracking can have benefits if it means your work is more objectively assessed and bureaucracy is cut down (no more logging timesheets, for instance). But workers are understandably wary of the Big Brother factor. Here’s what to watch out for if your company plans to start workplace monitoring.

Know your rights

If your employer wants to monitor you, they should let you know, telling you what is being tracked and why. This could include anything from CCTV to logging your email and web use.

But secret monitoring with hidden cameras or recording devices in private places is “rarely legal”, says the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Employees who think their company has overstepped the mark can take up a grievance procedure or complain to the Information Commissioner, who oversees data protection rights.

Agree reasonable boundaries

If you’re concerned about monitoring, you might be able to have informal discussions with your employer to discuss how it could be implemented without feeling too intrusive.

Many companies will be responsive, because they know that getting employees to accept the system is vital. One US law firm that advises companies on staff tracking says failing to get staff consent can “interfere with, or ultimately destroy, working relationships.”

Look for the upside

Tracking need not mean piling extra pressure onto staff. It can also mean understanding how the company works better and making it more efficient. In Japan, it’s even used to identify and address overwork, an issue which has put lives at risk in the past.

“The potential of people analytics to improve decision making is astounding,” says Ben Waber, president and CEO of analytics company Humanyze. “It can help workers like their jobs better, make more money, and spend more time with their families.”

Give feedback

Tracking is intended to help productivity. So if the system is unwieldy, complicated and time-consuming, your employer probably wants to know it’s getting in the way. And if it works well, you might be able to argue for more flexible working now the company can easily monitor your hours and output.

Caitlin Sisley at Workflow Max, a time tracking company, advises employers to send out an anonymous survey. “Finding out their real opinions, even if they’re negative, gives you the chance to review problems. And simply the opportunity to vent feelings can improve team morale,” she says.