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The Impact of Electronic Employee Monitoring on Mental Health


Sep 7, 2023

In today’s work environment, employers are increasingly using technology to monitor their employees’ productivity. According to the APA’s 2023 Work in America survey, over half of workers (51%) are aware that their employer monitors them electronically while they are working. However, employees who are monitored are more likely to experience negative psychological outcomes compared to those who are not monitored.

The survey results show that 32% of employees who are monitored report their mental health as poor or fair, compared to 24% of those who are not monitored. Additionally, 45% of those who are monitored believe that their workplaces have a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 29% of those who are not monitored. Furthermore, 28% of monitored employees state that their mental health has been harmed while at work, compared to 16% of those who are not monitored.

Tara Behrend, a professor of human resources and labor relations at Michigan State University, believes that many organizations adopt surveillance technologies because they struggle to manage remote workers. However, she argues that these tools do not measure the important ways in which workers contribute to the organization and generate value. In fact, the survey data indicates that productivity monitoring tools do not lead to better performance and are counterproductive for the organizations that use them.

To address the psychological impact of electronic monitoring, Behrend and Leslie Hammer, a psychology professor at Portland State University, suggest several strategies for employers and employees. They point out that electronic monitoring is associated with increased stress in the workplace, with 56% of monitored workers feeling tense or stressed out compared to 40% of those who are not monitored.

Hammer explains that close monitoring of behavior at work is extremely stressful and limits employees’ autonomy, leading to fears of job insecurity. This not only affects the employee’s mental health but also impacts their relationship with their employer. When employees feel disregarded or untrusted, it can result in lower commitment to the organization, decreased levels of psychological safety, increased stress, and strain in the relationship with their managers and supervisors.

Behrend emphasizes that when monitoring becomes invasive and interferes with the unspoken agreement of mutual respect between the worker and employer, employees may become less motivated to go above and beyond in their work. They may instead retreat into doing the bare minimum. Additionally, some employees who are monitored report feeling undervalued, micromanaged, and as though they don’t matter at work. This feeling of mattering at work is considered crucial for a healthy workplace.

To ensure that workers feel valued and understand why technology is being used to monitor them, Behrend suggests involving employees in the design of the technology. Asking for their input on meaningful and fair ways to measure performance can increase acceptance and usefulness of the monitoring metrics when implemented.

Lastly, employers should take the concerns of their employees regarding their emotional and psychological well-being seriously. Electronic monitoring can create a sense of distrust and anxiety that can negatively impact an employee’s psychological health, physical health, and job performance. It is important for employers to weigh the benefits of monitoring against the potential negative consequences and make sure that the monitoring is conducted in a respectful and trusting manner.

While monitoring can have psychological benefits when done well, such as providing valuable information for training and feedback, it is crucial that a culture of respect and trust exists within the organization. If monitoring data is used to punish employees or justify treating them like machines, it will not be beneficial.

By Editor

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