Many companies believe that the use of surveillance will alter the behavior of their employees for the better; however, that objective is not always achieved in most cases. Companies that use employee surveillance tactics are changing employee behaviour for the worse. The behavioural change is causing employees hardships that affect not only the way the employees act at work, but how they act in their personal life as well. Company’s surveillance tactics have negative effects on employees such as increased stress, loss of identity and the emergence of privacy issues.
Management acts on the assumption that their employees are doing something wrong instead of creating bondage of trust between them and their employees. When employees are under surveillance, management sends a direct message to the workers indicating that employees are likely to do something wrong and therefore need to be constantly watched and even punished. Sending this type of message demoralizes employees.
It has been shown in many psychology experiments that people respond better to positive reinforcement through rewards where employees perform better.
Today, workers under surveillance are nonetheless considered as prisoners. In the late 18th century Jeremy Bentham introduced the “panopticon surveillance” concept which was designed for prisons. It consists of allowing one observer to keep watch over all prisoners from a central tower.
Employers who use panoptical surveillance, are constantly knowingly or unknowingly increasing paranoia in the work-place.
Some companies want to make their workers feel as though every move they make could be under surveillance. C.C.T.V Cameras are even installed in the mess-room so that they can constantly monitor employees’ actions.
Companies are using every possible system available to monitor their employees. Computer surveillance is widely used to supervise activity. When an employee tries to access a site, a notification is sent to an IT database, whose information is used during performance evaluation. Another controversial surveillance method is e-mail surveillance. Most employees, namely administrative cadres, do not realize that their e-mail is constantly being supervised. Many employees think that if an e-mail is from their personal account, it cannot be read. This is simply false, no matter what service an employee is using to send or receive an e-mail, an employer can have access to information being communicated.
Companies with the support of professionals claim that they are using surveillance through C.C.T.V for safety measures. In reality, these video cameras are carefully placed so that employers can monitor what the employees are doing on a daily basis.
Surveillance is commonly used as a deterrent to crime and theft in the workplace. It is needed for government and private security. While surveillance may be valid for many reasons, it still has negative effects on employees, affecting their behaviour. It has been noted in surveys that employees who are under surveillance are more likely to suffer from health, stress and moral problems. It is clear that surveillance creates low morale and a loss of privacy in the company, and workers are more likely to quit their job.
As surveillance infringes on privacy it also affects the basis of self-determination and self-identity. Privacy, however, which is a difficult concept to grasp, is the ability for an individual to control the use of their own personal data, wherever it might be recorded. Therefore, personal data is personal property.
In this case, a breach of privacy would be an infringement of property rights. Therefore, going against someone else’s privacy is breaking the law. What if an employer is listening to a private conversation between two workers or reading a confidential mail or viewing two persons kissing each other? That conversation or gesture is supposed to be protected by law as being the private property of an individual.
Surveillance in absolute terms is used as a basis for power. To gain power over employees, companies deny individuals an unobserved space; not allowing an individual to have the necessary unobserved space is a lack of respect for his wishes and needs.
When employers use their positional power, they are controlling people’s basic needs. Employers cause employees not to trust them because they, in return, do not trust their employees. At this point, workers become virtual robots and everything they do is at the will and whims of their employer.
To conclude, it is morally wrong to use workplace surveillance to monitor employees. Employers with the blessings of policy-makers are treating employees as though they are criminals. This causes higher levels of anxiety among workers. Managers should know that people are trustworthy and can do their best.
The absence of a regulatory framework to define the limits of workplace surveillance is detrimental to workers of the private sector in Mauritius.
We should, as a society, treat employees respectfully. The virtue ethics perspective attempts to help people understand themselves and develop moral capacities to live and work well in all situations. If a company truly wants to change behaviour using virtue ethics, there is a simple way of doing so. “By promoting and facilitating methods for moral education, character development and emotional well-being.”
The golden rules must be applied. “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” Managers do not want employees knowing their every move, so they should offer their employees the same courtesy. Managers should undergo transformative leadership which emphasizes these values. The act of someone depends upon the type of leadership rooted in morality.
The C.T.S.P will continue to advocate against panopticonal surveillance. Companies use same as a fear tactic without realizing that the employees are more prone to occupational accidents as their mental well-being is affected.
We call upon this newly-elected government to ensure that necessary amendments be brought to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2005 to introduce a comprehensive section on psychosocial hazards with a regulatory framework to define the limits of workplace surveillance.