Right and wrong of using employee monitoring software

Wathcing through blindsEmployee monitoring software became commonplace. Many apps take monitor screenshots, capture keystroke and mouse movements, monitor active applications and visited sites and in extreme cases can even take pictures using webcam. It seems to be fair to track what your employees do when they are being paid for their time. After all, if they exchange their time for money, it seems fair for the employer to know what they are paying for. So why does it still feels morally inappropriate in some cases? The question is far from being just theoretical. If a wrong decision is made, a company may suffer from lawsuits, experience a backlash and productivity drop (opposite from what was intended) from their employees or suffer a damage to the company’s image. Let’s review in more details what employee monitoring practices can be considered valid and what should be avoided.

Silent vs Transparent employee monitoring

Silent employee monitoring is when information from employee’s computer is shared with company management without user knowing exactly what is being shared. Transparent employee monitoring is when an employee has access to all his monitoring data.

Silent monitoring without consent

Silent monitoring without consent is a simple case where it is easy to distinguish between right and wrong. It happens when employee monitoring software is being used without a clear consent from employee. If an employee is being quietly monitored and this fact is not stated in his contract with employer, he has a full legal and moral right to sue his employer. But even if mentioning it in the contract may make silent monitoring legal, does it make it morally right if it was not brought to employee’s attention and he is not aware that he is being monitored? Majority of employees would see it as wrong and rightfully classify as spying. And if you are a manager responsible for company policies in that respect, it would be prudent to make sure that every employee knows exactly if he is being monitored and what does the monitoring includes.

Silent monitoring with consent

Let’s assume you were smart enough to get employee’s signature acknowledging the usage of silent monitoring software and employees are aware of it. Chances are your employees still hate the fact they are being monitored and still see your company as doing evil. Why? Because they have no control over the process, they don’t know what the managers would see and how would that rate them. So they understandably label such monitoring as spying. The uncertainty brings dissatisfaction and alienates employee from the company. So if the goal of monitoring software was a productivity increase, implementing it as a silent monitoring would often bring the opposite result and should not be advised.

Transparent monitoring

In order for monitoring to be accepted by employees, screenshot monitoring software should have an absolutely transparent way to see what information is being collected. An employee should be able to see everything that his manager could potentially see. Take for example a simple software of this kind – SSM. An employee has to press Start button to start tracking time, and when he presses Stop or Pause, no monitoring happens. During monitoring the application takes periodic screenshots at random intervals. When a screenshot is made, the app makes a click sound, so employee knows when it was taken. At any point employee can come to SSM.com to review all of the screenshots that were being taken – this is exactly what a manager will be looking at as well. If an employee desires to delete any of screenshots – he can do it as well, however the manager would see the indication that a screenshot was deleted.
Such transparency leaves no space for uncertainty and doubt on employees side. The software implementing transparent monitoring is generally well accepted and considered fair by employees themselves.


The days when a big corporation could spy on their employees without their consent is over. Not only companies should have the legal right to monitor their employees, but in order to win their hearts, the smart companies should give their employees control over the monitoring process – only then they would see happy employees and increased productivity.

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