Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What role technology?

"Holmes' belongings" including a mag...Image via Wikipedia

BusinessWeek ran an interesting article yesterday, Tech That Combats Employee Fraud. While I thought the article was well written, what I found most interesting was the series of comments posted by readers on the web page. One poster was incensed that companies might deploy keystroke loggers or monitor website usage of employees. Another thought it was perfectly acceptable, as we wouldn't condone watching movies all day on a DVD player or spending hours on the telephone ordering items from a Sears catalog.

I think these people are missing the point.

Culture is Key
Technology should be an enabler, supporting the strategies and tactics employed to meet corporate objectives. When combating fraud, fostering and maintaining an environment of integrity, honesty and ethical decision-making is far more important than deploying technology to inhibit or root out misconduct. The Ethics Resource Center's National Workplace Ethics Survey clearly shows that having a positive work environment strongly correlates to minimizing misconduct.

So How Much Big Brother?
The other comment I'd make relates to management philosophy on how much monitoring is necessary. I'll leave it to the lawyers to argue where and when the line is crossed when infringing on the right to privacy for employees. But my own personal management style is to set expectations, and then let my reports live into them. At the end of the day, I care whether the work is done - with high quality - and that my employees act with integrity and respect for others and follow our code of conduct.
Since I have no issue if they work long hours - including weekends - I don't really feel that I should have an issue with them taking time to view Youtube, update their Facebook accounts, shop online, IM, or other activities that others believe shouldn't be done on "company" time. In my mind, the lines between "company" and "personal" time have blurred.

If I have an employee who chooses to not to live up to our agreed upon objectives and expectations, then I have a management problem that I need to correct.
Similarly, if they break the law, or violate our code of conduct, then I will take appropriate actions. Technology may help me identify these adverse situations, augmenting the culture I help set for our employees, but in the end, I hold myself accountable for hiring great people, treating them with respect and allowing them to be professionals.

What do you think? What is the "right" amount of employee monitoring?
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5 Responses to "What role technology?"

Doug Cornelius said... March 4, 2009 at 11:47 AM

Bill -

My problem with the article is that they mash together workplace fraud with web browsing. Different issues and different concerns.

Employees should have no problem with their computer, communications and internet being monitored. You need to prevent abuse and determine if there is abuse.

Blocking access to internet sites like Facebook or online shopping is different. I agree that you need to have some trust in your employees that they are getting their work done.

Policy is important to make sure they are not abusing the sites. After all, you don't need the corporate network to access the internet. I can do as much on my iPhone as I can at my desktop. You don't want people associated with your company (your brand) posting offensive material that could come back against the company.

There are some interesting points in the story and the comments. But they are mixing too many things together.

Nick said... March 10, 2009 at 2:17 PM

Bill, I think you are spot on. Technology can not replace management, and never will be able to. The problem I see is the same as Doug. We are talking about two different problems.

Should Big Brother be monitoring everything you do every day? I don't believe so. Should there be appropriate logging so that if it was believed your company leaked information that they could go back, find out if it was leaked, and by who? Absolutely!

It is a balance of saying be free to do what you want, but we have the data to investigate your actions if we think someone in the company was malicious. It is a balance.

There is a time and place for having security and monitoring cranked up (NSA, DOD, etc.). I don't believe most companies need a staff monitoring every email and IM. I do think companies, especially with today's environment, need the ability to look at historical data to find potential theft, harassment and other problems.

Doug Cornelius said... March 12, 2009 at 4:05 AM

Nick -

Thank you for the distinction between monitoring and logging. My "monitoring" is your "logging." You need to track the information in the event of a problem. You are right in that most organizations do not need to actively read the information.

I would add broker/dealers and their registered representatives to the list of organizations that do have to monitor. (Based on the FINRA rules)

Gabriel said... March 16, 2009 at 3:16 PM


If production is slacking, it is not due to IM'ing or Facebooking. It is due to a bad hire. Well before the social media hotspots, employees still found ways to slack off and not get their job done.

Anonymous said... June 28, 2018 at 3:12 PM

Technology still has to be serviced, updated and maintained by someone, right? Machines are not over-taking jobs. People have to update their current skills if they want to stay employed.


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