Being Watched at Work
The 3 p.m. slump has arrived, and your eyes are tired of staring at the same screen all day. You turn your head to make sure your boss isn’t looking over your shoulder, open a new browser window, and start scrolling through social media. You think you’ve snuck in an extra break – but have you? Your boss may not be standing behind you while you text on your phone or gossip via work instant messenger, but they may know what you’ve been up to regardless.
If you’ve ever felt like your employer somehow knows your every move, you’re not alone. And, as it turns out, you may actually be right. We surveyed over 1,000 current employers and employees to find out how many think they are being secretly supervised, and how many actually are. Keep reading to find out if your emails really are private, or if your employer has been peeping.
Overall, almost three-quarters of employees think their work activity is being surveilled by their employers. This conclusion was fairly evenly agreed upon across genders and generations, but varied a little more when it came to position and industry. Seventy-eight percent of lower management employees felt they were being watched – 10 percent more than those in entry-level positions.
Employers in the marketing and advertising industry were the most likely to feel that they were being watched, followed by information services and data processing – two industries heavily reliant on technology and work-related computer use. Computers have opened the door to new methods of surveillance, turning to programs instead of cameras to get the job done, making it easier – and sneakier – for employers to monitor employees.
What exactly are employers looking at? Employees’ hunches that their work emails were being monitored was right – our survey revealed that 52 percent of employers were surveilling employees’ emails. For those working in the public sector, however, it may be more than just your boss checking in: emails between government employees and those in the education sector may be subject to public record.
Browsing history was also thought to be monitored by 68 percent of employers, but only around 40 percent of employers actually did monitor it. Similarly, almost 55 percent of employees thought their boss might be checking their social media usage, but that platform was actually the least likely to be surveilled by employers.
Would You Watch?
It can be quite uncomfortable to learn that you’re being watched – especially when it comes to social media and the use of your private information. But is being monitored by your employer something that simply comes with the territory? More than half of employees think workplace surveillance is acceptable, the most being Gen Xers. Millennials are the least accepting of all surveillance types, except when it came to monitoring personal phones.
However, if the employees put themselves in their employers’ shoes, a whopping 78 percent of them would be willing to monitor their employees, citing worry about whether their work time was being used efficiently. Even though employees may not be the biggest fans of workplace surveillance, it seemed that most of them understood the benefits pretty clearly.
Millennials may have been the most likely to view personal phone surveillance as acceptable, but this type of surveillance could land them in a sticky situation: Not only were millennials the most likely to gossip, but they were also the most likely to use their mobile phones to do so.
Employees across generational lines were more comfortable gossiping face-to-face (outside of the workplace) or through their own phones and emails, compared to using their work email, phone, or in-office instant messenger. Regardless of the means, if your employer decides to monitor your activity and catches you gossiping about them or your co-workers, it could cost you your job.
The majority of employees believe their employers monitor their activity, so we wanted to know what steps they took to achieve some added privacy. Most chose to clear their browsing history, but employers were on to them – more than 47 percent of employers thought their employees were doing exactly that to cover their tracks. Employers thought that employees were switching from office Wi-Fi to personal data more than anything else, even though only 25 percent of employees actually made the switch.
Employers have started turning to computer programs as a way of monitoring their employees, but those in the technology and entertainment industries are fighting back. Tech employees were the most likely to use privacy software on their computers to stop employers from accessing their personal activity (almost 93 percent, on average) followed by the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry (about 76 percent, on average).
Making an Impact
Slacking at work certainly has a negative connotation, but experts suggest it could actually help boost productivity under the right circumstances. In reality, you’re more likely to get good quality work done when you’re relaxed compared to what you produce when you’re stressed.
Still, if you’re scrolling through social media on the clock or watching YouTube when you’ve got a deadline looming over you, it’s fair to expect that kind of diminished work ethic to come back to you. As we found, nearly 40 percent of employees expected actions unrelated to work to come back to haunt them during their annual reviews. Whether it’s getting a good recommendation for the year to come or earning a healthy merit increase in pay, employees were more worried about the impact of their actions on reviews compared to promotions or bonuses.
When the time comes for reviews and promotions, however, your boss isn’t just taking your work performance into consideration. Turns out, your non-work related actions are indeed the most impactful when an employer is considering promotions and bonuses. While employees thought that reviews were the most impacted by their non-work actions, less than 45 percent of employers agreed.
When compensation is on the line, employees in certain industries were more concerned about how their behavior might impact their pay compared to others. Employees working in marketing and advertising were the most likely to suggest slacking off would impact their bonuses and raises, and those working in transportation and warehousing believed it would impact their opportunity for promotions the most. Overwhelmingly, people working in real estate and leasing might have the most autonomy over their days, as they were generally the least concerned over any negative fallout from being caught performing tasks unrelated to work while on the clock.
Look No Further
Technology has taken surveillance to a whole new level, and employers are catching on. From computer programs to microchips and biotracking, your activity in the workplace may be monitored. Keeping your personal life separate from your work life is possible, but it requires the use of personal emails and phones. If you feel the need to gossip or take a personal call, your best bet is to take a break and step outside: Your actions in the workplace can have more of a ripple effect than you think.
No matter what industry you work in, you might want to know what to expect from company culture before you apply for the job. At Simply Hired, you can search for jobs tailored to your needs and wants. With a simple search, you can browse open positions and compare salaries based on job title and location. Visit us at SimplyHired.com to search and apply for a job or post an open position today.
We collected 987 employees and 28 employers via survey. Ninety-seven percent of our participants were employees and 3 percent were employers. Fifty-two percent of our participants were men and 48 percent were women. Six percent of our participants were baby boomers, 26 percent were Gen Xers, and 68 percent were millennials. Nineteen percent of our participants were entry-level employees, 44 percent were intermediate employees, 14 percent were lower management, 18 percent were middle management and 4 percent were senior, executive, or top-level management. Fifteen percent of our participants work in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry, 3 percent in construction, 15 percent in education, 12 percent in finance and insurance, 5 percent in government and public administration, 7 percent in hotel, food services, and hospitality, 7 percent in information services and data processing, 6 percent in manufacturing, 2 percent in marketing and advertising, 11 percent in medical and health care, 2 percent in real estate, rental, and leasing, 3 percent in scientific, 7 percent in technology, 4 percent in transportation and warehousing, and 10 percent in wholesale and retail. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 76 with a mean of 35 and a standard deviation of 10. Sample sizes with less than 20 respondents were excluded from analysis. We weighted the data to the 2016 U.S. Census for age and gender.
The data in this project depends on self-report. There can be many issues with self-reported data. These issues may include but are not limited to selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. No statistical testing was conducted, so the claims included are based on means alone. As such, this content is investigative and future analysis should approach this topic more meticulously.
Fair Use Statement
No need to keep this private. We permit you to share the content and images from this study for noncommercial purposes. Just make sure to link back to this page to give the authors proper credit.