Greetings fellow managers!
It was suggested to me that I use surveillance cameras to monitor one of my employee's performance. We installed these cameras to remotely view some equipment which is occasionally left unattended.

The implication is that she won't know she's being watched, and since I am not in close proximity, I don't get the "real" view of her job performance. I see it as intrusive and unethical. Thoughts?

skwanch's picture

Absolutely unethical to have surveillance that an employee doesn't know about (there are exceptions in certain instances, such as where the employee is dealing w/ high volumes of cash - perhaps).

NOTHING wrong w/ surveillance the employee DOES know about.

Another way to look at it - 'secret' surveillance is not about creating/perpetuating effective behaviour - it's about catching someone doing something wrong. Which makes it the equivalent of Mark's examples about mgrs 'faking' a late-stage coaching model when they have no intention of keeping the person, but just want to create an excuse to fire the employee for their own (the mgr's) failure to motivate/improve the employee.

To those who tell you 'well if the employee knows they're being watched of COURSE they'll do their jobs', I'd respond 'and isn't that the objective?'

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

"They're not as dumb as you think." :) She'll figure out you're watching. Unless you need legal proof of theft or some other prosecutable offense, I don't get it.

If you don't know what her job performance is, you're not doing your job. If you have a set of goals and objectives for her, and she's meeting them, what's the real issue here?

Who's making the suggestion? What axe do they have to grind? Why do they think you she isn't doing her job? Why do they think you don't know what your direct is doing?

Someone has an axe to grind here. I'm with you, it feels icky.

wendii's picture
Admin Role Badge


My questions would be:

* Do you think this person isn't performing?
* If not, is survelliance the best way of dealing with this?

Apart from the ethical considerations, it's just not the best way to solve the problem.


jhack's picture

"equipment ... left unattended" sounds like concern about about theft, not performance. Those are VERY different issues.

You should have ways of measuring performance that don't include video (unless you're in broadcast or cable TV!). Does the work get done on time? Aret the pots washed and clean, or whatever.

How do cameras allow you to measure performance?


corinag's picture

What do you think about computer monitoring systems?

I believe one of my employers installed a keylogger on the computer. There were no computer policies to prevent you from accessing forums or e-mails on private accounts, or bans on internet access, and no inkling that there would be a keylogger or any electronic recording of your traffic.

I was pretty angry when I found out, because I had accessed my private e-mail account from the work computer (that was the address listed for my MBA) and I thought the employer had my password and access to private data. I think that surveillance is an employer's right, but the employee has to know that he's surveyed, and how, and what are the behaviors that aren't allowed.

This employer also used microphones to monitor the main room (open space) in another of the companies, so that the GM could hear every conversation that people had, whether work related or personal. I realize work is for working, but people do converse about things they wouldn't necessarily share with the GM.

What are your thoughts on this? How would you handle it if you knew and other coworkers didn't?

TomW's picture
Training Badge

I think these days it's safe to assume that anything you do on a computer, your employer knows about. Most companies have a policy to that effect, but even if they don't I wouldn't do anything on a company computer that I wouldn't want to CEO to know about or the CIO to have access to.

I always think of video and audio monitoring for watching potential shoplifters and such. I don't know that surveillance really helps performance any. It might help you catch someone stealing, but if the issue is just that the person is not performing up to standards then the trinity of O3s, feedback, and coaching would have a much better effect on the person.

If you are not sure if the person is performing, then the fault may not be in the person being reviewed. It's the manager's responsibility to delegate and set desired results. How will video tell you whether the person is getting results?

To me, work surveillance is not as much an unethical practice as it is an ineffective one.

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

I agree with TomW. Surveillance is not an effective management practice. It sounds like someone at this company wishes they were a spy. Or worse, gets their jollies from being a voyeur.

I find the situation you describe (video monitoring staff for performance, mic'ing people in public areas) to be morally questionable at the least, and repulsive. I wouldn't work there.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="lazerus"]The implication is that she won't know she's being watched, and since I am not in close proximity, I don't get the "real" view of her job performance. I see it as intrusive and unethical. Thoughts?[/quote]

I also see it as unethical, and certainly something I would consider immoral. In the UK it would also be highly illegal. Under UK law any area under CCTV surveillance must be clearly signposted as so.

As other's have said the only reason to watch someone without them knowing would be to try to catch them doing something they could be disciplined for. If there are concerns about her performance then watching her covertly is unlikely to improve her performance. All it is likely to do is cause distrust and malice from her and everyone else (if you have been watching her covertly who else have you been watching?) plus potentialy putting the organisation at risk of litigatation. Remember, litigation doesn't have to be sucessful to cost your company a lot of money; lawyers have to be paid, managers and other staff will have to take time off from generating value to talk to lawyers and maybe appear in court, publicity can harm you company's image &c. Coaching, training, O3 and all the other stuff that we've been hearing about in the podcasts are ways of improving performance, espionage is not.

How to measure performance is a frequent source of disagreement in my organisation, some managers concentrate on just the inputs (how long was someone sat at their desk) whilst others are more interested in outputs (did they do what they are paid to do whilst they were there). I lean towards the latter. This also reflects in attitudes to home working with the 'at your desk' group asking how they will know if someone is working when they can't see them and the others not caring so long as the work is done on time (or sooner) and to the required quality (or better).


bflynn's picture

Forget about cameras for performance monitoring. They're just trouble. Additionally, it sounds like some wouild like you to use them to replace actual management. Why would anyone want the one sided communciations provided by cameras?

I presume the problem you have is that she is not delivering results. (If she is, what is the problem?!) Focus on why, not how.

Give feedback on not achieving results. Make sure this is an O3 topic every week. Provide coaching on how to improve. Do this continuously for 3 months. At end of that time, there has either been improvement or not. If you've made an honest effort to help her and there still has not been improvement, then its time to think about other options.


lazerus's picture

I just want to thank everyone who replied to my post. It seems the consensus is not ONLY is this just a bad idea, but it is also completely ineffective. Wrong on so many levels, as they say.

I think the supervisor of the person in question is afraid to have ANY communication with the people. It is this supervisor who suggested using these cameras. His behavior and thinking needs adjusting feedback, I can manage the other person using O3s, feedback, and coaching.

I will delegate the removal of ALL cameras (like WillDuke I find the use of them repulsive) to the individual who suggested this spying.

Thanks again for all your input!

merbyrd's picture

I'd like to add my experience. We are employing silent monitoring to observe customer service skills via phone monitoring. Our company policy does state that everything, phone, computer, etc can be monitored at any time and there wasn't much of a fuss, until we started implementing phone observance. I understand the concept and but down side-it also is equivalent to the old saying "listen at the keyhole and you hear something about you that you may not like" We can not observe personal calls and have to immediately disconnect but now that we are implementing it, the whole attitude/demeanor of directs are noticable. :evil:

akinsgre's picture

I worked at a Mfg plant where we used cameras to record work activities related to quality.

Mgmt wanted to be able to investigate problems in quality by referring to the videos during time periods where quality problems had occurred.

It was NOT about employee performance monitoring.

However, the employees still thought it was.

Humorously, sometimes the employees would leave notes taped up in front of the cameras to provide "excuses" if they had to leave their station for a few minutes.

juliahhavener's picture
Licensee Badge

Phone recordings can be invaluable in providing customer service skills observance and coaching. There isn't a call center in existence to my knowledge that does NOT do this.

In a stardard office setting, there is the potential for the personal call capture. Your employees need to feel confident that their privacy is protected AND that there is value to them in the new recordings.

How are you using those recorded calls? My group gets to select the recordings and we generally listen to them together. We use a feedback system (just for call coaching) that revolves around continue/stop/start. Small positive feedback items if you are listening alone may help them see that no one is out to get them - only help them.

terrih's picture

I read in [i]Wired[/i] a few months ago that if you want to make sure people donate to the "kitty" for coffee or whatever, place a picture of a pair of eyes there. Psychologists have shown it will collect more money if you do. Even though people know perfectly well it's not real surveillance.

And, of course, they printed a pair of eyes for cutting out and attaching to the kitty. :lol: