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Survey Suggests Employees Doubt Workplace-Monitoring Motives

Up to 34% of employees think they're monitored because managers don't trust them, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and

Employees believe they're monitored in the workplace to assure productivity and because employers don't trust them, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Society for Human Resource Management and HR professionals, however, say employee monitoring assures the integrity of business-critical systems and safeguards proprietary information.

The 2005 Workplace Privacy survey is based on information gathered from 336 HR professionals and 520 visitors to CareerJournal. It notes that it shouldn't be surprising that HR personnel tend to agree with organizational policies since they often help create them.

Steven Williams, director of research at the Society for Human Resource Management, says there's a disconnect between employee perception and management intention. "What we found is employers do a pretty good job in making sure that they secure important components within their organizations--for example, auditing practices, checking up on expense reports, and monitoring employee spending," he says. "The issue is that many of the employees think that they're doing it for different reasons.

"Up to 34% of employees believe the reason that employers engage in these practices is because management doesn't trust them," Williams says. "But we found that only 2% of companies [used monitoring] to determine whether an employee was applying for a job elsewhere or because the management doesn't trust employees."

Good communication is crucial to dispelling such misapprehensions, Williams says. "What's important for companies, as well as HR professionals, is to communicate with employees about why they're doing it and why there's such a policy in place," he says. "That will also help to increase employee compliance."

Alan Chapell, founder and president of Chapell & Associates, a privacy consulting firm, agrees. "If employers do need to monitor employee behavior--as is commonplace in the financial-services world, for example--then they need to be crystal clear with employees regarding what actions are being monitored, what the boundaries are for employee conduct, how long monitoring data will be kept, how it will be used, and so on," he writes via E-mail.

Employers also need to provide a plausible reason for monitoring, Chapell says. "The more clarity that the employer is able to provide the employees," he writes, "the easier it will be for the employer to obtain a basic level of buy-in (not to mention trust) from the employee."

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