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Monitoring Workers: Good or Bad For Productivity?

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A lot of companies fear that their employees are slacking off and hurting their productivity. The question is, would they go so far as to use a device to monitor their every movement in the workplace?

This new item from Hitachi, an electronics manufacturer out of Japan, is causing quite a stir. CNN has reported on the device, called the Hitachi Business Microscope. The way it works is pretty simple and sort of scary. It looks pretty similar to an ID badge that most companies already use. But instead of just being used as a form of ID or to swipe in for work, this actually tracks you throughout your workday.

empty desk workplace productivity

© Flickr user

The developers have placed a microphone sensor, infrared sensors, an accelerometer and a wireless communication device inside each badge. It can then record and transmit all the data back to whoever is listening in. That means all of your conversations, where you had them, and how intense the conversation was is tracked. Because it identifies the other person’s badge when you’re near them, it also knows exactly who you were speaking to. You aren’t safe from getting up and walking away from your desk, either. Have a case of irritable bowel syndrome? They’ll know.

Americans have been concerned for some time now about the increase in electronic “spying” from government agencies like the NSA and Homeland Security. Still, we’ve tolerated it because we believe that it helps improve domestic security against potential terrorist attacks and there are numerous legal hurdles and internal checks that prohibit government snoopers from abusing the technology.

There’s question, however, whether these constitutional safeguards apply to private employers. Just how far can they go in monitoring employee activity? While some argument might be able to be made to monitor behavior considered to be related to office productivity, what about lunch times, bathroom breaks and other “private” moments throughout the day? Is that stepping over legal boundaries?

Hitachi defends the usefulness of the technology this way:

“With the enormous amount of data collected with the Business Microscope, it will be possible to propose methods to improve organizational communication and quantitatively evaluate efficacy.”

But what does a company do with the information it collects? Is that data grounds for termination? What if some hacker, either externally or internally, gets hold of the data? Are companies equipped to secure the privacy of their employees.

As you can see, this technological breakthrough is fraught with personal and legal hazards. Any possible gain in productivity appears to be more than offset by potential abuses and cases of liability for the company.

Truthfully, this sounds like an absolute nightmare. Unless you lie to your employees, they will all know that they’re being watched. It brings micromanagement to a whole new level, and we have already discussed how little we here at Accelawork believe that actually helps improve worker productivity. But the purpose of the Hitachi Business Microscope is to improve efficiency by figuring out who the weak links are, or if certain meeting topics are exciting enough for everyone to pay attention (because it monitors if you are interacting or nodding off.)

There really aren’t enough words to stress how horrible of an idea this is. Your employees deserve respect and some amount of trust. If you can’t trust them at all and need to put a device around their necks to monitor them, then why are they still employed in your company? Instead of intruding on everyone’s privacy, maybe hold some conferences. Have a business improvement consultant come speak to your workers about being productive. Or hire more people that you actually trust. But going Big Brother on everyone will only end in resentment and an empty office.

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Alyssa Shea

Alyssa Shea

Alyssa Shea transplanted from Illinois to South Carolina. She loves to write, read, and spend time with her dog and her family. Alyssa is very active on social media. She has been part of the AccelaWork team since 2013.
Alyssa Shea

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