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By Michael Cupps, Senior Vice President, Marketing at ActiveOps, discusses the future of ethical employee management and how to keep good staff from going elsewhere.

Surprisingly enough, employment productivity monitoring (EPM) was not invented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, through the pandemic, there became an increased curiosity in the line of products designed to track employee activity throughout the working day.

Despite tried and tested ways of monitoring your staff, the concept of ethical EPM is relatively new. It stems from the fine line employers must walk between employee surveillance (generally accepted as poor for employee engagement and morale) and EPM, which emphasises employee wellness, performance, and employee empowerment rather than corporate oversight, and spying.

The balance of building trust and employee burnout

Employee productivity monitoring still appears to be a Draconian attempt to micromanage an entire workforce’s time and mouse clicks. That kind of intense monitoring for those not in the know is a practice that does not end well, for either party. In rare cases, tech-savvy team members have been known to attempt to outsmart their managers by creating their own mouse-clicking programs.

Yet, where there is an environment breeding an element of distrust, even on both sides, the impact on business can be hugely damaging. In the working environment, where employees continue to work under immense stress with the ever-present threat of burnout around the corner, such inefficient practices, thankfully, are fast becoming outdated.

In 2017, a study by Baylor University found that monitoring software correlated with greater employee tension and less job satisfaction, indicated a higher workforce turnover. This situation has only been exacerbated by the stresses of working remotely during a pandemic.

Ethical employee monitoring

Ethical EPM, on the other hand, turns employee behaviours into a measurable source of information about employee wellbeing. It shows employees, managers, and the organisation how individuals spend their screen time and how productive they’ve been. That means that they can adapt what isn’t working to be more intentional, and not so they can punish those who aren’t working.

It’s hard to understand your performance because the measure of what good looks like can be so subjective,” says Richard Jeffery. EPM software allows an employee to assign real metrics to what a good day looks like, and on the other hand, what a bad one looks like too. It is empowering to the employee because it gives them vital information about how they use their time. Rather, in the same way, a fitness app on a smartwatch gives back your control over your health and fitness.

Research has found that a great majority of employees don’t mind being observed once they understand the monitoring is in place for their own use to help them stay on course, keep a tab on their working hours, and gain more autonomy about when and where they choose to work.

Capturing the correct data for the right reasons

Ethical employee productivity monitoring can show managers both sides of the spectrum of employee productivity, giving team leaders a 360-degree view of the work being produced by how employees are doing. It goes beyond the idea that high productivity should be logging in seven days a week for 12 hours a day. It’s not good for the business and even less so for the employee.

So, what is good data? Analytics that flag up potential employee burnout is one, which can be done in many ways. It might be as simple as evaluating an employee’s workload to ensure they’re being assigned tasks they’re trained and qualified to do. Where the data is wrong or misleading, the result can have an adverse effect.

For example, an organisation might be preparing to place an employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP) for low productivity. But using an EPM provider, they were able to see that the employee wasn’t slacking off or performing below their ability — they were simply spending so much time in the training modules learning how to do new tasks, thus taking them away from other responsibilities.

Thanks to this insight, the employee’s manager could intervene, adjust the employee’s tasks, and save the relationship, save the employee’s morale and even avoid a resignation.

Overall, how an organisation uses time is critical information for operations and not just for employee wellbeing. It informs so many things, primarily when the company’s pace is driven by variability of what’s coming in the door. When employees and team leaders are better informed about their workloads and how they structure their day, they can balance resources. This, in turn, maintains productivity no matter what’s coming in — which is essential in creating company-wide balance and maintaining company health.

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