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Feel like someone’s watching you? Study shows 1 in 5 tech workers subject to workplace surveillance

Written on Nov 4, 2022

One in five UK tech workers are subject to workplace surveillance software which is being used to monitor their activity across in-office, hybrid and remote settings, a Prospect Union survey has found. 

The results demonstrate the extent to which digital surveillance of the workplace has become a feature of the UK’s post-pandemic economy. 

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of remote and hybrid working, many enterprises have started using monitoring software to keep an eye on their employees working from home. 

Many of the digital monitoring tools available today allow enterprises to see a range of information about their employees’ activities, from recording their keystrokes and mouse clicks to tracking their physical location and use of applications or websites. 

Using these and a variety of other information, the software can help enterprises to conduct predictive and behavioral analytics, enabling managers to understand and track how productive employees are over time. It can also be used to feed algorithms with human resource functions, including hiring and firing. 

A major part of the problem, said Prospect, was that workers themselves are being kept in the dark about how the surveillance software monitoring them works. 

For example, only 11% of survey respondents – which include both union and non-union members – said they were “very sure” what data their employer was collecting about them and why. Just over two in five were “somewhat” or “very” unsure what data their employer was gathering on them or how it was being used. 

A significant majority (69%) said they would like to see their employer do more to support the development and deployment of responsible technology. 

A similar survey of employers conducted by YouGov in November 2020 found that, at that point, 20% of UK businesses were already using, or planning to use, employee monitoring software. It also noted that the practice was more prevalent in larger companies. 

The use of workplace surveillance technologies to monitor and track staff working from home has increased hugely since the start of the pandemic, but most workers say it makes them feel uncomfortable. 

Prospect’s survey also identified a number of other trends, including that workers who are not a member of a union are more likely to be being monitored than those who are; and that, because of the increasing prevalence of remote working from home for these tech workers, only a quarter said they are “always” able to switch off outside of working hours.