New technologies are enabling more varied and pervasive monitoring and surveillance practices in the workplace. This monitoring is becoming increasingly intertwined with data collection as the basis for surveillance, performance evaluation, and management. Monitoring and surveillance tools are collecting new kinds of data about workers, enabling quantification of activities or personal qualities that previously may not have been tracked in a given workplace—expanding the granularity, scale, and tempo of data collection. Moreover, workplace monitoring and surveillance can feed automated decision-making and inform predictions about workers’ future behaviors, their skills or qualities, and their fitness for employment. Monitoring and surveillance can shift power dynamics between workers and employers, as an imbalance in access to worker data can reduce negotiating power.
This explainer highlights four broad trends in employee monitoring and surveillance technologies:
- Prediction and flagging tools that aim to predict characteristics or behaviors of employees or that are designed to identify or deter perceived rule-breaking or fraud. Touted as useful management tools, they can augment biased and discriminatory practices in workplace evaluations and segment workforces into risk categories based on patterns of behavior.
- Biometric and health data of workers collected through tools like wearables, fitness tracking apps, and biometric timekeeping systems as a part of employerprovided health care programs, workplace wellness, and digital tracking work shifts tools. Tracking non-work-related activities and information, such as health data, may challenge the boundaries of worker privacy, open avenues for discrimination, and raise questions about consent and workers’ ability to opt out of tracking.
- Remote monitoring and time-tracking used to manage workers and measure performance remotely. Companies may use these tools to decentralize and lower costs by hiring independent contractors, while still being able to exert control over them like traditional employees with the aid of remote monitoring tools. More advanced time-tracking can generate itemized records of on-the-job activities, which can be used to facilitate wage theft or allow employers to trim what counts as paid work time.
- Gamification and algorithmic management of work activities through continuous data collection. Technology can take on management functions, such as sending workers automated “nudges” or adjusting performance benchmarks based on a worker’s real-time progress, while gamification renders work activities into competitive, game-like dynamics driven by performance metrics. However, these practices can create punitive work environments that place pressures on workers to meet demanding and shifting efficiency benchmarks