Employee-Monitoring Systems in the Workplace


According to a survey done by the American Management Association, forty-five percent of large and mid-sized companies in the year of 1999, “record and review their employees’ communications and activities on the job, including phone calls, e-mail and computer files.(“Privacy Issues at Work,” 1999).” With the fast paced advancement of technology today, businesses are taking advantage and controlling the performance of the company through electronic employee monitoring. According to the Office of Technology Assessment, electronic monitoring is the “computerized collection, storage, analysis, and reporting of information about employees’ productive activities (qtd. in Mishra and Crampton, 1998).” Employee monitoring is being used to increase customer satisfaction, improve employee performance, and enhance productivity. A company can monitor its employees using various monitoring systems including call-monitoring, video surveillance, and computer monitoring. The type, cost, and advantages versus disadvantages of the system should be considered in the selection process, as well as the laws regulating employee monitoring in the workplace.

Call Monitoring

The first type of monitoring system is the call monitoring system. Call monitoring is “listening to live phone calls and recording one’s observations (Riechley, 1996).” The most important aspect of this system is the observer. The observer can sit next to the person making the call, which can be helpful with new employees who need training tips. The observer can also be a secret caller and judge the phone representative by playing a customer role. Lastly, the observer could wear a headset or another electronic device and listen to the calls from a separate room. This last method could consist of the observer recording the various calls and listening to them at a later time. Throughout the phone call, the observer takes notes on an evaluation form in order to evaluate the call and give feedback to the employee (Riechley, 1996).

When designing the form used for the evaluation process, a few points should be followed. First, the form should be continuously revised in order to accommodate the ever-changing business world. The forms are pretty complex and sensitive to change, so revising should be done at least once every quarter. Second, the forms should list various items in to test the skills and understanding of the employee. If the form is kept too general, then testing in a wide variety of areas such as knowledge skills, listening skills and verbal skills can not be accomplished. Next, the form should be designed directly toward the job it is evaluating. According to Dr. Kathryn E. Jackson, “the call monitoring form is an assessment instrument used to determine if the rep has mastered all the skills and knowledge required to deliver excellence on the phone. The form is used to determine when reps master a skill or if they are struggling with it (Jackson, 1998).” The supervisor can then determine whether recognition or coaching is needed for the employee. The form should contain enough space for the observer to take note of different occurrences or ideas he or she may encounter through out the process. This way the observer can give examples when noting a discrepancy. The employee will then be aware of the exact moment he or she did something right or wrong. Lastly, the form should take all components into consideration in the determination of the results. Some categories should be weighted more than others (Jackson, 1998).

Successful Implementation:

In order to ensure that the call-monitoring program will be successful, the company should let the employees know that they can be monitored at any time. During the hiring process, the supervisor should make the new hire aware of the monitoring process instituted within the company. If the new hire has any problem with this, he or she has the option of not accepting the job. Also, a policy should be formed for the understanding of the monitoring process for current employees. This policy will ensure that the employees are aware of the procedures of the program and the consequences of certain actions (Jackson, 1998).

Monitoring should not be done at the same time on the same day. It should be randomly selected to establish accurate results and samples. The observer should also listen to the entire conversation of the phone call. By listening to just parts of the conversation, the observer chances catching the employee at a bad time. If he or she ceases to listen after this point, he could risk missing the employee improve after self-realizing the mistake made (“Making the Most of Your Call-Monitoring Program,” 1997).

The observations being made should also be kept on file. The manager can then monitor trends of improvement or failures over a period of time. Each employee within a department can then be analyzed continuously and given help on an as need basis (“Making the Most of Your Call-Monitoring Program,” 1997). The statistics kept on the various calls screened will eventually lead to better customer service because the employees will know exactly what they are doing wrong. “By listening to a phone rep’s call, the observer can identify strengths and weaknesses in call handling and help him or her understand how calls can be improved (Riechly, 1996).” Because of this reason, all employees should be monitored on a regular basis. As a result, each employee will then always be aware of the areas they need to improve on. When giving the employees feedback, each manager should communicate the results supportively and immediately after the event. “In addition to the timing of the feedback, the content of the feedback, and the motivation guiding the feedback process, can have a powerful impact on the target individual’s willingness and ability to improve (Whetten and Cameron, 1998).”Each employee needs to be motivated to perform to his or her best effort and potential through the feedback. When making employees aware of their mistakes, the supervisor should also give the employee ideas on how to improve. That way the supervisor is not just reprimanding the employee, he or she is also giving advice (“Making the Most of Your Call-Monitoring Program,” 1997).

Lastly, there should be an allowance for a right of redress by the employee being monitored. The employee may feel that the observer took something out of context or misunderstood a certain situation. If the employee feels this way, he or she can then give an explanation on the occurrence. The supervisor can help think of different ways to handle the situation next time (“Making the Most of Your Call-Monitoring Program,” 1997).


The costs of call-monitoring systems can range from $150 a seat all the way to a total of around $120,000 depending on the company used. The following are three companies that could set up a call-monitoring program within a company. The first company is Converse Information Systems. They have a program called UltraNet. It is a “client/server digital recording system,” with “6144 channels per system,” and can “store to 8mm tape, DAT, optical disk.(Hayman, 1997).” Its starting price is $28,380, and is based on the number of agents and storage. The next company is NICE Call Center Division, which offers NiceUniverse. This program “automates call-monitoring” and can be used as a “quality measurement tool” with “customized on screen scoring templates: detailed reports, statistics and graphs (Hayman, 1997).” It starts at a beginning price of $25,000. The last company is Witness Systems, with their program called Witness. This program has “automated call monitoring.records complete calls” and has “evaluation and report generation withcustomer-defined form, report graph and query creation.(Hayman, 1997).” At the least, it would cost around $75,000, but the average cost is about $120,000 for 100 to 200 seats (Hayman, 1997).

Advantages and Disadvantages:

There are various advantages and disadvantages to using a call-monitoring system. The first advantage is that call monitoring will result in a higher quality establishment. The employees will know that they can be monitored at anytime, so they will always try their best. This effort will, in turn, make the customers much happier. Call monitoring is also an easier way to develop the staff. Because employees are being monitored, supervisors are constantly aware of the problem areas. Call monitoring can also let top management judge the overall operations of the company. The top management will have an easier time seeing how their company is performing (Riechley, 1996). Call monitoring also lets management find out who the stronger employees might be. The supervisors will be able to distinguish between those who are work hard and those who do not make an effort (Mishra and Crampton, 1998).

One disadvantage is the stress that will be placed on the employees because of the knowledge that they could be watched at anytime. “According to John R. Aiello and Kathryn J. Kolb, writing in the 1995 Journal of Applied Psychology Vol. 80, research studies link electronic monitoring with increased stress, decreased job satisfaction, feelings of social isolation, and belief that quantity is more important than quality (qtd. in Phipps, 1996).” This stress can affect the motivation of the worker leading to a decrease in productivity. Employees could also feel that their employers do not trust them. This feeling of mistrust can also lead to decreased productivity and decreased motivation. “.Stress levels and job dissatisfaction increase when workers feel they have no control over their jobs and when there is a lack of trust in the work environment (Mishra and Crampton, 1998).”

Video Surveillance

The next type of employee-monitoring system is video surveillance. Video surveillance is the viewing of employees through the use of various video cameras placed through out the facility. Technology has advanced a great deal, and because of this, more and more employers are installers video cameras to view their employees behaviors (Turk, 1996). “Employers may use video surveillance cameras to monitor the workplace in areas where employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy (Turk, 1996).”

The video cameras can either be placed in plain sight of the employees, or secretly hidden. Although the employees may be able to see the cameras in place, it is commonly expected that employers point out the cameras to the employees anyway. “These conditions would eliminate any expectation of privacy that employees would otherwise have and, in addition, may halt or prevent workplace misconduct if employees know they are being watched (Turk, 1996).” For some workers, being able to see where the cameras are located is a deterrent for bad customer service or inappropriate behavior. For other workers, the presence of the camera will not affect their behavior because they will assume that the management is not viewing the tapes or just do not care. Because the cameras can be interpreted in two ways by the employees, management must take the time to view the tapes and evaluate the employee’s performance (Levine, 1999).

“Video surveillance is used by employers for detecting employee misconduct (particularly theft), monitoring job performance and efficiency, and assuring conformance with safety procedures (Turk, 1996).” The cameras should be placed through out the entire company and not just on the particulars. By doing this, the employees will feel that the video surveillance is more fair than if it would just be placed on certain individuals (Cook, 1999). Companies should inform the potential employees of the cameras and point them out to the new hires as well. Again, if they do not feel comfortable with this, they can always choose not to accept the position (Cook, 1999). More than likely, if the employees are planning to do their best, then the video cameras should not be a bother.

Successful Implementation:

There are several ways to ensure that a video surveillance system be a success. “Concealed video surveillance is often the quickest and most cost-effective investigative method available.It provides a good way of documenting evidence that is frequently irrefutable (Levine, 1999).” Barry Levine, the president of a company that sells video surveillance equipment, has suggested tips on a successful program. The first tip involves the aspect of secrecy. If the company does choose to use some hidden cameras, only a few people should know their location. If more people find out then it will cause a grapevine of rumors with all the employees knowing where they are hidden. The next tip is to make sure that if a camera is going to view an entire room, it is positioned in the best possible location to focus on everyone. It would be a shame to have a camera and not be able to capture an important aspect that may occur in a room (Levine, 1999).

The next tip focuses on equipment. “A simple system that gets the job done will take less time and save money (Levine, 1999).” According to Levine, a simple VCR will do as long as the manager always checks to make sure the correct date and time are shown. Levine suggests that a company should plan ahead (Levine, 1999). Not all the employees will react in the same way to the video surveillance system. Supervisors should be prepared on how to handle employees concerning the new monitoring technique. The supervisors should also plan on how they will deal with the various problems caught on tape. Planning ahead will make the program more effective. The last tip suggests that managers always have extra tapes stored in the facility. This way if the tape runs out, the manager will always be prepared with a new one, and no activities will go unmissed (Levine, 1999).


The costs of a video surveillance system basically depend on how many cameras a company would like to install. For $145, a basic black and white camera can be bought. It is as small as a quarter and can go unseen by employees (Levine 1999). If the company would like an add-on wireless transmitter that will send a TV signal to VCR up to 500 feet away, they can purchase one for approximately $299. The Sony EVO is the smallest videotape recorder and is available for about $1100 (Casimiro, 1998). “Today’s cameras can peep through an opening of only 0.0625 of an inch, making them virtually undetectable (Levine 1999).” A company could also consider using a closed-circuit television system to videotape the employees. A simple system can cost $200 for one camera and one monitor. An off-site system with monitoring from a different location would be around $599 (Musick, 1998).

Advantages and Disadvantages:

The major advantage of video surveillance is that it is objective. “This is a benefit because it provides an unbiased method of performance evaluation and prevents the interference of a manager’s feelings in an employee’s review (Mishra and Crampton, 1998).” When the manager using the video surveillance evaluates the employee, he or she will base the review only on the taped performance. The manager will present the employee’s actions directly to the employee with various criticisms and compliments. The employee will be able to view his or her performance on a particular date and have the benefit of being able to see exactly where the problem areas lie. This will make it easier for an employee to improve his or her performance. The tapes can be “used as a tool to show employees their work habits and what they need to change to improve their performance (Mishra and Crampton, 1998).”

Another advantage to having video surveillance is the fact that they can act as deterrents for bad behavior by the employees. If the employees know they are constantly being viewed, more than likely they will do their best to work harder to please the customer (Turk, 1996). The cameras act as motivators that encourage workers to perform to the best of their abilities. Good work can then be recognized.

There also are some disadvantages to a video surveillance system. Being constantly watched can make some employees feel that there is no trust between the management and employees (Mishra and Crampton, 1998). The system can also lead to higher stress levels for the employees. They do not want to under perform, so they are constantly worrying about their performance. This type of stress could lead to working conditions that could harm the production of the company (Mishra and Crampton, 1998). “These conditions include paced work, lack of involvement, reduced task variety and clarity, reduced peer social support, reduced supervisory support, fear of job loss, routinized work activities and lack of control over tasks (Mishra and Crampton, 1998).”

Computer Monitoring

“Electronic mail is becoming as common as the telephone as a workplace communication tool. But, unfortunately, employees’ personal use of the e-mail has resulted in lost worktime and occasional improper use of the e-mail system (Shostak and Wong, 1999).” This fact leads to the next type of employee monitoring system, which is computer monitoring. This type of system could monitor certain key strokes a worker may hit, the errors made, length of time, internet access, and view the e-mail accounts (Kidwell and Kidwell, 1996).

“Computer-based monitoring is the use of computerized systems to automatically collect information about how an employee is performing his or her job (George, 1996).” There are programs available that can track Internet activity by storing the websites the employee visits and record the time spent on that website (Xenakis, 1998). Some companies use a video display terminal which can track the number of mistakes an employee makes on the keypad, the speed of their typing, the accuracy of the typing and the number of jobs they are performing at once (Mishra and Crampton, 1998). By using this system, a supervisor can keep a record of an employee’s particular performance. Also, it makes it easier to give advice to the employee on how they can improve in their position. This type of system makes it easier for supervisors to perform other responsibilities without having to constantly watch over the employees (Mishra and Crampton, 1998).

Tracking employees’ e-mail is an important part of this system. Having e-mail available for the employees has greatly increased their ability to communicate. Every time the employee sends an e-mail from their job, the company’s name is embedded in the address. To ensure the quality of a company’s good name, the employer has the right to monitor the e-mails sent and received (Hartman and Bucci, 1999). Some monitoring systems can select and view e-mails on a random basis. They can also be programmed to check for certain key words that could signal a problem with the employee (Hartman and Bucci, 1999).

Some companies use this system to ensure that the e-mail is only being used for company situations (Hartman, 1998). Monitoring an employee’s time on the Internet can also tell a company a great deal about the employees. First, if a certain employee is not performing up to standards and seems to be lagging behind, their activity on the Internet can be a crucial factor linked to their performance. The employee could be wasting time visiting various sites, causing their customer service skills to suffer (Hartman and Bucci, 1999). Employees can also unintentionally bring viruses into the company’s system by downloading from the Internet. If a company uses a computer-monitoring system, they can prevent a situation like this from occurring.

Successful Implementation:

In order to make the computer-monitoring program successful, a company should establish a policy and follow a set of guidelines. A way to make the employees appreciate the monitoring system is by the allowing the employees to help in the policy creation process. This is a way of finding common ground with them (Schulman, 1998). The policy should state that the company e-mail and the Internet should only be used for company reasons. Also, it should state that the employees’ activity could be monitored at anytime. This way an employee will be aware that their private lives should stay out of the workplace (Shostak and Wong, 1999). Next, the supervisors should “inform employees that e-mail is company property and not private, even if a password is required to access the E-mail system (Shostak and Wong, 1999).” This knowledge could act as a deterrent for misuse of the computer system. Another guideline that should be implemented is letting the employees have access to any information found on them through the monitoring system (Hartman, 1999). If a company is going to discipline based on the monitoring system, the employee should have the right to see exactly what they did wrong.

Next, a company should state in its policy that any type of information found on the Internet or sent through the e-mail should be of taste and not discriminatory, racist, or defamatory (Shostak and Wong, 1999). An employee could find useful information on the Internet that could improve his or her performance, but it must maintain ethical and professional standards. Last, a company should make sure that each employee sign a policy informing the company that they are aware of the monitoring guidelines, policies, and procedures (Shostak and Wong, 1999).


The cost of a computer monitoring system can range from $900 to well over $10,000 depending on what exactly is monitored. A simple system that monitors e-mails and Internet activity, and also makes the manager aware of message errors costs around $995 (Anonymous, 1997). A more complex system created by WinVista Pro tracks Internet activity, the hard drive of each employees’ computer, all the programs activated, and how long an employee is away from his or her computer. It also stores data and has a function that blocks employee access to certain Internet sites selected by the employer. The cost of this system is $9,000 plus $150 per terminal (Xenakis, 1998).

Advantages and Disadvantages:

There are various advantages and disadvantages to the computer monitoring system as well. By tracking the time spent on the computer, an employer will be able to evaluate an employee’s performance better (Hartman, 1998). With a clearer understanding of what the employee needs to improve on, training and coaching can be given to the employee, which benefits them. For example, if an employee is taking a longer time in between keystrokes, the monitoring system will catch this. A supervisor can then find out why this occurring by asking the employee. The employee might not understand the computer program. By having the monitoring system, the company would find this out and train him or her on the program. The employer benefits from this as well because productivity will be increased and customer service will be improved. “.If electronic surveillance gives employees information to improve performance as well as remove bias from evaluating work, efficiency may be enhanced (Kidwell and Kidwell, 1996).” One disadvantage to the computer monitoring system is the lack of trust felt by the employees. This is especially high in this type of monitoring system because the employer is actually going into the employees’ e-mails and watching their every move on the computer. Workers tend to feel “powerless (George, 1996).””One of the most often discussed issues related to computer-based monitoring is whether monitored workers will shift their primary attention to quantitative aspects of their jobs, those things that can be counted through monitoring, and away from more qualitative aspects detracting from the level of service in the process (George, 1996).” Employees can become stressed by the fact that they are constantly being monitored, which will lead to a decrease in good customer service. “The advocacy literature routinely reports direct casual relationships between computer-based monitoring and increased stress and incidents of stress-related illnesses (George, 1996).” The employees will focus more on the speed and numerical results on their computer and less time talking to customers or being hospitable to them.

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