FEATURE30 August 2019

I’m all eyes: the rise of workplace surveillance

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Technology is making it possible for firms to gather more information on their employees’ performance and movements. But how is this data being used, and is there a risk that workplace surveillance could leave staff feeling spied upon?

Im all eyes

In 1783, the Bank of England appointed a committee to interview employees about the nature of their work, with the aim of understanding more about working practices and identifying failings.

One of the most interesting findings was the extent to which the clerks’ working lives were determined by the clock – with a time appointed for their arrival and departure, and attendance books ensuring their compliance.

Since the Industrial Revolution, businesses have used methods – such as clocking-in machines – to monitor their employees’ efficiency and punctuality. Today, however, companies can monitor staff in far greater depth, using technology and automation to track everything from how often a worker takes a toilet break, to what websites they visit and who they are emailing. Workplace surveillance has moved beyond timesheets and become more sophisticated, giving employers valuable insights on staff performance, loyalty and wellbeing.

For example, IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty recently said the company can use artificial intelligence (AI) ...