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Five Trends In Monitoring And Tracking Employees

Five Trends In Monitoring And Tracking Employees

By Mark Swartz


In the near future, more words and efforts of employees may be monitored. Super-powerful computers will analyze the data. They can report your productivity, location, health and even mood on demand.

This goes beyond the keyboard stroke recording, video cameras and phone listening that routinely takes place already.

Seem a little scary? The required technology exists. Some of it’s in actual use right now. gives you a peek at five surveillance trends to watch for.


1.  Wearable Fitness Devices

Not long ago the oil company BP distributed 25,000 fitness-tracking watches to its North American employees. The goal is to voluntarily cut healthcare costs.

Smart watches, activity and heart rate monitors can help motivate employees to shape up. That improves productivity and reduces lost days due to illness.

But there are issues. For instance, who owns the data generated from all these devices? What happens if a hack exposes people’s private – and rather sensitive – health information?

Also can employees be discriminated against if they don’t willingly use wearables? Then there’s the prospect of losing a promotion if your data is deemed unhealthy.


2.  Wearable Location and Conversation Monitors

Smart watches are one thing. Smart Badges raise tracking to a new level. These latter devices use GPS (Global Positioning System) signals to trail you around. They also monitor the length of conversations you have when moving about. Currently your permission is needed for this.

Employers say it helps manage premises by showing facilities usage. As for conversation lengths, it’s an attempt to measure interaction between employees.

University of Toronto Professor Alan M. Saks of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources Management cautions that the technology has “the potential for invasion of privacy and the feeling that one is always being watched, which can have negative consequences.”


3.  GPS and RFID Portables

Employers in the transportation, logistics, and healthcare industries are requiring workers to carry GPS or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) devices so they can be efficiently tracked.

Usually these portables are described as workflow optimization tools. In reality they allow anybody with access to monitor an employee’s movements. Note too that all your work-supplied mobile devices could track you by GPS after hours (if you leave them on and take them with).


4.  Implantable Devices

Yes, implantable. As in under your skin. Where are these used most commonly? Embedding RFID microchips in livestock and pets enables quick identification of animals. Hiding them in inventory reduces theft. Coming soon to your arm or hand.

Sticking rice-grain sized RFID chips into employees is happening. Workers in facilities where access is restricted – think diamond mines and buildings with vaults – may be required to consent. One Swedish office uses them to open locked doors and track photocopier use.


5.  People Analytics Software

With all these devices collecting data, the logical step is to analyze it deeply. Data mining software is being deployed for that.

Work-supplied portable devices and computers, texts and emails, Slack or Yammer chats, and unprotected social media are information sources. Parsing it is the job of “people analytics,” an emerging branch of Human Resources.

Algorithmic profiling can be used in decision making. Based on your social media, work emails and phone call patterns, do you fit the profile of someone who should be promoted? Or of a criminal prone to defraud the employer.


Next Up

On the horizon is sentiment analysis software. Large companies like Accenture, Intel, IBM, and Twitter have started using it to track their employees’ moods about their jobs, and identify problems that might escape a stressed supervisor at review time.

If all of this leaves you concerned, take some comfort. The latest techniques are not yet widely adopted. And laws to assist employees protect their privacy are being amended.

In the meantime feel free to talk to yourself in your cubicle. It’s not like there are invisible microphones in the walls. Or are there?



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