More Companies Watching Employees, American Management Association Annual Survey Reports
by American Management Association (AMA)
All Forms of Active Monitoring Rise to 78% from 74%, One-Fourth Have Fired Workers for Misuse of E-Mail or Internet
NEW YORK, April 18, 2001—Nearly 80 percent of major U.S companies keep tabs on employees by checking their e-mail, Internet, or telephone connections or by videotaping them at work, according to American Management Association's annual survey on workplace monitoring and surveillance. Active monitoring has skyrocketed in recent years, up from 35 percent in 1997. Sixty-three percent now monitor workers' Internet connections, up from 54 percent a year ago, and 47 percent store and review employee e-mail, an increase from 38 percent in 2000, the survey found. Forty percent block Internet connections to unauthorized or inappropriate sites, up from 29 percent last year. More than a quarter of surveyed companies (27%) say that they've fired employees for misuse of office e-mail or Internet connections, and nearly two-thirds (65%) report some disciplinary measure for those offenses. "Privacy in today's workplace is largely illusory. In this era of open space cubicles, shared desk space, networked computers and teleworkers, it is hard to realistically hold onto a belief in private space," said Ellen Bayer, AMA's human resources practice leader. "Work is carried out on equipment belonging to employers who have a legal right to the work product of the employees using it."
Although the average percentage of workers with office e-mail and Internet connections remained relatively constant (65% and 52% respectively, compared with 64% and 48% the previous year), overall active monitoring grew to 78 percent from 74 percent. The overall figure includes such measures as storing and reviewing computer files (36%), video recording of employees on the job (15%), recording and reviewing telephone messages (12%), and storing and reviewing voice mail 8%). Other forms of surveillance, including telephone numbers called and time spent on the phone (43%), logged computer time (19%) and video surveillance for security purposes (38%) brought the total for all forms of monitoring to 82 percent, up from last year's 78 percent and from 67 percent in 1999."It's not just a matter of corporate curiosity, but very real worries about productivity and liability that push these policies," said Eric Rolfe Greenberg, director of management studies for AMA. "Personal e-mail can clog a company's telecommunications system, and sexually explicit or other inappropriate material downloaded from the Internet can lead to claims of a hostile work environment."
In previous years the growth in monitoring went hand in hand with increases in the share of employees gaining access to e-mail and the Internet. This year, however, the average share of employees with office connections hardly grew at all, while monitoring those activities rose by nearly 10 percent. "It's important to note, however, that by far the greater share of this monitoring is performed on a spot-check basis rather than an ongoing, 24-hour basis," Greenberg continued. "And, importantly, 90 percent of the companies engaging in any of these practices inform their employees that they're doing so."
The AMA survey of 1,627 organizations focused on large and mid-sized firms and does not represent an accurate sampling of U.S. businesses overall. The sample does reflect practices among its members and client firms, who together employ over one-fourth of the American workforce. The sample's margin of error is 2.5 percent. The AMA questionnaire was mailed in January 2001 and reports practices in place as of early 2001. "The lines between one's personal and professional life can blur with expectations of 24/7 work week, but employees ought to engage in some discretion about personal activities carried out during the official hours of work," Bayer commented. "The obligations for respect are mutual. It is up to clear-thinking managers and realistic employees to leverage the good that monitoring can accomplish and work to assure those adequate safeguards are in place to avoid abuses."
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