Employee Monitoring Software: Why You Shouldn’t Use It (And What To Do Instead)

Employee monitoring software can be deadly for your business. It can destroy trust, morale, employee productivity, creativity, and more.

Should you use employee monitoring software for your business? Will it benefit you and your business?

Many believe that tracking their employees will improve productivity and make them more profitable. They believe that by tracking and controlling their employees, they get more out of them.

Is that true? Should you use tracking software for your employees?

The answer: No. In the great majority of cases, you should not use tracking software on your employees. It destroys trust, long-term productivity, creativity, and more. Unless it’s for legal or similar reasons, using employee monitoring software is generally a bad idea.  

Instead, you should build a culture of trust and safety, and through that, you will grow long-term productivity, loyalty, innovation, retention, and more.

Employee Monitoring Software - Why You Shouldn’t Use It (And What To Do Instead)

Let’s dive into why using types of employee monitoring software is ineffective, the many pitfalls of it, and what to do instead.

First, what is employee monitoring software?

There are various companies that offer employee monitoring software. They may include features like:

  • Screenshots at set periods of time
  • Keyloggers
  • Recording employees screens
  • Remote desktop control
  • Application and website monitoring
  • Instant message monitoring
  • Online meeting monitoring
  • And more.

Some even have a “stealth mode” so employees don’t even know they are being tracked until the employer catches them doing something “wrong”.

You may want to check out some of the best employee monitoring software here.

Why do employers monitor their employees?

Employee Monitoring Software - Why do employers monitor their employees

A big reason that employers use employee monitoring software is that they want their employees to be more productive. They feel if they monitor them, then they can force them to get more done.

But here’s, the truth (or truths, rather):

The real reason employers feel the need to monitor their employees is that they don’t trust their employees.

  • They don’t trust their employees to do the right thing or they see their employees as us vs. them or they see their employees as just tools to an end, so they feel they have to control and micromanage them.
  • They feel they have to make their employees productive, or they will not be.

But here’s the next truth:

If you feel like you can’t trust your employees if you feel like you must control them to get things done, if you see your employees as tools or us vs. them, the fault is not on the employees, the fault is on you, the leader.

Again, if you don’t trust your employees, it’s not your employee’s fault, it’s yours.

It could be that you lack leadership skills and aren’t following good leadership principles. It could be that you haven’t built a culture of trust.

It could be that you have the wrong mindset. It could be that you are terrible at hiring people. Whatever the reason, the fault is yours.

Another truth:

If you feel like you have to control your employees, you’ve already lost. Control and compliance are not the way to build a great company.

Notice the language used above – get more out of their employees (like wringing out a towel), force, control – all language that creates an us vs. them mentality, sees people as tools instead of partners and collaborators, and in the long run hurts your organization.

Your job as a leader is to serve and help your team reach their goals, not control and force them.

What sounds better (and is better):

To get more out of your employees, help and enable them to be and do their best.

The intended result is the same (in a way), but the verbiage and mentality you use matter. In fact, one of the top employee monitoring software companies listed its feature (emphasis mine):

  • “It helps increase the efficiency of employees.”
  • “It minimizes the risk of insider threats.”
  • “It allows controlling remote workers.”

If you feel like you have to control your employees, you are hurting yourself greatly.

In the next section, we’ll show how the mentality of control and how using tracking software on your employees is detrimental to your business, your employees, and your long-term success.

"If you feel like you have to control your employees, you’ve already lost." ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet

The Negative Effects of Using Employee Monitoring Software (why it’s harmful)

The Negative Effects of Using Employee Monitoring Software

There are many harmful effects of using employee monitoring software – much of it stemming from the trust issue and mentality of control.

You will notice that many of these have linking parts, too. One leads to or contributes to another (and possibly vice versa). I did my best to write them separately, but do note that many of these are intertwined and help cause or increase one another.

1. It shouts out in big bright letters – “I don’t trust you”

The best way to build a culture of innovation, productivity, and motivation is to build a culture of trust. Your employee needs to trust you – and you need to trust them.

In fact, many of the reasons below why tracking employees is harmful stems from this lack of trust.

When employees don’t feel trusted, they lose motivation, morale, initiative, creativity, productivity, and more. When you use employee monitoring software, especially stealthily, you are telling them you don’t trust them – and they know it.

2. It creates a “gotcha” environment

Leaders should serve their team and be about helping them do their job well, not looking for ways to catch them doing wrong. That mentality demotivates, hurts innovation and creativity, and helps create an us vs. them mentality.

People then often just do enough to get by or to make the employee time tracker happy. They don’t take risks or innovate, because if they make a mistake or mess up, then they will get “gotten”.

3. It hurts loyalty

When the company culture becomes us vs. them and about finding mistakes, it lowers the employee’s loyalty to the company, which of course contributes to other issues.

Think about a place of business (hotel, restaurant, theme park, etc.) where the people helping you loved their job. What difference did that make?

Now think about a place where you know a person didn’t have loyalty or love for their work or enjoy their work. What difference did that make?

When employees don’t feel loyalty, the customers will see it, know it, and affect their loyalty and retention as well.

4. Mistakes and problems stay hidden

You want people to feel safe enough to raise their hand and say, “I made a mistake” or “there’s a problem”.

When it’s about controlling and getting people when they do wrong, people aren’t going to speak up. They are going to hide it or keep it to themselves. This keeps employers uninformed about potential dangers that could damage or destroy the business.

5. It increases employee stress

Employee Monitoring Software increases employee stress

It can easily increase stress. Employees fear taking too long or messing up or not doing things right. When people have higher stress, they are more likely to make mistakes or do things with less quality.

AND stress can be a health issue for your employees.

6. Employees lose the incentive to go above and beyond

When that trust is lost and it’s about control, employees lose the desire to go above and beyond. It’s about compliance, not growth. They are likely to just try to put their head down, get through the day, and just get by.

7. It reduces/removes intrinsic work motivation (and makes it transactional)

It reduces or removes that intrinsic motivation to do one’s best and improve. It becomes extrinsic – making the software for monitoring employees happy.

When you lose intrinsic motivation, you lose much.

In fact, a survey by a university in Finland found that employee monitoring software:

“..can significantly reduce their intrinsic work motivation, which in turn could harm creativity. More importantly, the researchers found that employees were less willing to go above and beyond for the company when they knew their internet activity was being monitored.”  

8. It hurts innovation, initiative, and creativity

When people don’t feel trust, when they feel controlled or micromanaged, when they have that fear of using too much time on this or that, when they lose intrinsic motivation and the desire to go above and beyond, it kills creativity, innovation, and initiative.

People are less likely to research new ideas, experiment, take new risks, to take the time that creativity requires, as they are constantly monitored and warned if they don’t meet specifications.

When you kill innovation and creativity, you are killing long-term productivity and success in your organization.

9. It demotivates employees

Lack of trust is demotivating! When you kill trust and autonomy, people feel less motivated. They are more likely just to work to get by, not give their all or do their best.

10. It lowers job satisfaction

It makes sense. When people don’t feel trusted, when they feel demotivated, job satisfaction is lower. And when job satisfaction is lower.

It Increases Employee Turnover – Here’s Why:

Employee Monitoring Software Increases Employee Turnover

A 2017 study by Baylor University found that:

“monitoring software correlated with greater employee tension and less job satisfaction, indicating higher turnover intent.”

Companies that have low cultures of safety and trust have higher turnover than those with cultures of safety and trust.

1. Employees may be more likely to break the rules

Employers implement these control mechanisms to try to make people do what they consider the right thing, but, according to Harvard Business Review, it could actually make the more likely to break the rules.

This makes sense when you think of us vs. them mentality. People don’t feel as loyal, and they feel like management doesn’t trust them and is out to get them. What is one common response to that? Rebellion, in one form or another.

2. It becomes not about the goal or mission, but about compliance and getting by

When people do not feel trusted, feel controlled, or micromanaged, and they see it as us vs. them, their focus is not on the mission or goal, or vision of the company, it’s about compliance, making admin happy, and getting by.

In a great company culture, you have loyal, innovative people working together for the accomplishment of the goal.

You lose that when you remove the trust.

3. It can become about time used vs outcome

Ideally, your focus is the outcome, not how much time was spent on a task. But, with employee monitoring software, it can be more about making sure everyone is using a certain amount of time versus the outcome being completed.

And when that happens, with this mentality, people are more likely to fill the time expected for the task instead of taking initiative and moving forward.

4. It hurts productivity (especially in the long run)

Employee Monitoring Software hurts productivity

Now, when you look at the employee monitoring software companies’ web pages, they often state it helps employee productivity.

And, while it may possibly increase some productivity to a point short-term because of the being monitored aspect, you are hurting your productivity in the long-term.

When you kill loyalty, innovation, creativity, motivation, job satisfaction, and so on, you are killing an amazing amount of productivity and new ideas you could have had that could have propelled your company forward who knows how far.  You also lose the experience and knowledge of employees due to higher turnover.

When you have people who are loyal and go above and beyond and who take initiative, your productivity, your profits, and everything will go up much more than the idea of compliance.

And think about it this way as well:

Busyness does not equal productivity.

Monitoring software for employees is likely to bring more busy work to show being “productive” instead of what might actually be productive.

And part of productivity is thinking and innovating – people are less likely to do that being monitored.

When people fear making mistakes or fear taking too long, etc. they also are less likely to do more challenging work. They will more likely stick with the easy work that they know they can do instead of the more challenging (that may drive the company forward more) that they could get in trouble for if they mess up.

Also Read: 15 Habits That Can Kill Your Productivity At Work (And Hurt Your Success)

5. It doesn’t solve the core issues you may be having

And the truth is, if you are having productivity issues, employee monitoring software is just a band-aid that covers up the symptoms. It doesn’t solve the issue.

If you have a negative company culture, low trust, lack of resources or training, lack of clear job descriptions or clear expectations, poor hiring and firing policies, and negative or toxic leaders – tracking software won’t fix that.

If you want to really fix it, you need to start with yourself, the leader, and go from there (we’ll discuss more further down).

This may not apply to everyone in every country, but different countries have different laws – if you aren’t careful, you may break some. And many consider, depending on the level of monitoring, it an invasion of privacy.

7. People find ways around it

And, truth is, people find ways around it. If they really want to do something they shouldn’t, many will find a way.

When you build that us vs. them and “we don’t trust you” mentality, as we mentioned before with rule-breaking, they may be even more likely to do it.

What Should You Do Instead?

What Should You Do Instead

The best way to build high-performing teams is, to start off by, being the best leader you can possibly be. Learn what good leadership is and practice great principles of leadership. Keep learning, growing, and developing other great leaders.  

  • Start with yourself first.
  • But, from there, your first step is to build a culture of safety. Be a leader who people can trust and who cares for their team.
  • Do what you say you are going to do. Be a person of integrity. Truly care for their team. Be about helping them and supporting them, not with the mentality of trying to catch them doing wrong.
  • They should know when they make a mistake, you are about helping and supporting them and helping them learn, not being out to get them.
  • Serve your team.
  • Create a culture that encourages innovation, and risks, and accepts the mistakes that come with that.
  • Create a culture where people feel safe speaking up, admitting mistakes, and bringing up problems.

When you can do this, you will build higher-performing teams.

Also Read: 15 Core Principles Of Leadership Every Leader Should Follow

Additional Strategies

With that, you should:

  • Hire great people
  • Have clear expectations
  • Provide the resources and training they need
  • Release them and let them do their job, giving them the power to make the decisions related to their job
  • Cast vision
  • Help everyone see the vision, the purpose, and how their job helps move the company toward the vision
  • Help grow your people to be their best. Help them reach their career and personal goals.

Also Read: 10 Vital Leadership Roles Of A Great Leader

It starts with you as the leader and, from that, building a culture of safety

It starts with you as a leader being a person your team can trust and you caring for and serving your team. It starts with a culture of safety.

When you create that, your team will be more productive and have more loyalty, innovation, motivation, initiative, and so on than any employee monitoring software could ever give you.

A recommended read on this topic of creating a culture of safety is Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last.

Are there any reasons why you should ever consider using tracking software?

Why you should ever consider using tracking software

When it comes to employee time tracking, there are legitimate reasons why you may track time in certain situations. We cover that in this article here.

With that, when you have a culture of safety, talking to employees about tracking time or such to improve processes could possibly be helpful – but it must be for the right purpose, you have to have that culture of safety, and you have to be explicit why it’s being used.

If there is hesitancy and uncertainty from your team, you may need to step back.

If you have an employee who struggles with distraction, you may provide him with tools to track his own time so that he can observe how it’s being used – to be an eye opener and you help him as needed.

Except, that’s not about you monitoring the person, it’s about providing a tool to help them grow and for him to take ownership of it. It’s a growth mentality.

And, there could also be legal and security reasons why you may have to use some form of monitoring. When it comes to people’s lives and data, a company may track some usage to protect that data because of its sensitivity and value.

Government institutions that deal with classified material may have some tracking to help protect that material. In those cases, it’s not about a lack of trust or control, but the protection of something valuable that could have legal or security consequences if something is leaked.

If you have to use it for whatever reason, great communication is key.

In all those cases, though, a culture of safety should still be there, and the safer people feel (and the better communicated), the more understanding and less defensive they will likely be about it.

Should You Use Employee Monitoring Software – The Conclusion

Is using employee monitoring software worth it? Does it truly help increase productivity long-term?

I hope to see that the answer is “no”.

The best way to build a great company that is productive and moves forward toward its mission is to be a great leader (and develop other great leaders) and build a culture of safety.  

I know this topic could be a hot topic for some with different viewpoints. What are your thoughts? When do you think it’s worth it to use tracking software on your employees, if ever? Let us know in the comments below.

If you find this article helpful, we would be honored if you share it with your friends. You can find more related articles and a lot of other FREE resources here.

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