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We are living in a time of increased workplace surveillance. Due to the pandemic, many of us have shifted our work environments from the office to our homes. As a result, many employers have been utilising technology to monitor staff who are no longer contained and observable within an office structure.

Current surveillance increase

As reported recently in The Economist article titled Welcome to the era of hyper-surveilled office, “global demand for employee-spying software more than doubled between April 2019 and April 2020”. Evidently many employers support using surveillance software to establish the productivity of those working remotely. 

What may (or may not!) surprise you, is that “Australian employers rank first in the world in using technology to monitor their employees” as reported in this recent AFR piece. The result of the significantly high surveillance take-up in corporate Australia may be an increase in disgruntled employees. In September last year, Herbert Smith Freehills conducted a global survey which found that around 61 per cent of senior executives in large corporations in Australia believed there would be an increase in employee activism within the next three to five years. Employee surveillance was cited by these senior executives as what they believed would be the most likely trigger for employee activism (above pay and vaccine status).  

How much surveillance is acceptable?

LinkedIn is currently running this interesting poll asking How much visibility should your boss have over your work via electronic monitoring? So far, the answer of None, too invasive is in the lead, but it’s notable that the level of surveillance acceptance amongst employees is also quite marked with approximately 40 per cent of respondents so far answering either All of it, no secrets or Only for priority projects.

We can get a sense of the varying levels of surveillance that employers and employees would prefer, but what are the regulations around workplace surveillance? If you live in NSW, we have the Workplace Surveillance Act in place. An important entitlement to be aware of is that no employer is legally allowed to put you under covert/secret surveillance. Employees must be notified of allowable surveillance that is set to occur with at least 14 days’ notice. It’s a good idea to read the Workplace Surveillance Act if you’re looking to understand your rights as an employee or employer. It may also be worthwhile seeking legal counsel. 

Trusting your staff

The reality is that countless studies into employee satisfaction and engagement indicate that staff are more likely to thrive when given a certain degree of trust and autonomy by their employers. If you’re hoping to establish a happy workplace with productive workers, putting them under stringent surveillance is statistically not the answer. Better to set performance targets and inspire, encourage and support them to meet these goals.