“Being watched”- 29 December 2015
A small office run by a woman acts as a good source of entertainment as the employed staff resign from her organisation every now and then and come to tell the stories to their friends and colleagues with horror and with humour as well which is actually black in nature. It’s a small office with just about two rooms and with three staff members to cater to customers. Two CCTV cameras’ are installed in the room as the room is divided into two with a partition and the boss woman has the TV monitor on her office desk where she monitors her staff. Now the harassment as narrated may sound stupid and silly but it has created mental health issues for the employees. She watches every step of theirs, does not allow communication between them, shouts and castigates them if they do talk to each other in breaks, accuses them of talking against her, threatens them with termination of services, and has made them so to say ‘paranoid’!
Says a senior HR consultant that “Putting employees under surveillance to measure efficiency, and ensure data security is a common practice. However, constant surveillance also increases fear and stress levels in employees.” This almost seems like common sense to a psychologist. If big brother is watching all the time the employee is going feel invaded with no sense of privacy and no breathing break. If each step of an individual is going to be monitored, you may be doing more harm than good. In large organisations where hundreds of employees work, strict precise monitoring may not be possible as you would require a significant number of staff to watch the hundreds. But yes, the events could be recorded and could be used for the purpose of post-mortem. When an event occurs such as a theft or an assault on a colleague the record could show the exact nature and pin the culprit. But excessive monitoring of each step is certainly unproductive.
“In my view, monitoring and surveillance increases fear and stress levels in employees, and decreases trust levels with respect to the organisation, in general. Research also supports this view. This had relevance decades ago when organisations were more the ‘command and control type’, following the hierarchical system and only the stick approach,” says Aparna Sharma, a senior HR professional and author of HR Reality Bytes.
“In today’s times, while employers use monitoring devices to keep track of their employees’ actions and productivity, their employees feel that too much monitoring is an invasion of their privacy. Also, there are ethical implications of constant monitoring,” she adds.
“While monitoring and surveillance is an important part of ensuring that the workplace is productive, there is a fine line between the right amount of monitoring and surveillance, and too much of it,” says S Varadarajan, CHRO and head, corporate affairs, TATA-SIA Airlines.
“It is like panoptic surveillance,” he says. The concept was designed for prisons in the 18th century, where one observer would keep watch over all prisoners from a central tower.
“Employers do not realise that such practices increase paranoia in the work-place, knowingly or unknowingly,” he adds. Monitoring should be used as a tool, to support the performance appraisal process, which includes timely support of by the manager to the subordinates,” he adds.
As a psychologist we know a small percentage of people have mental health issues and some of them may suffer from anxiety, depression, and paranoia. For such people to be monitored is further anxiety producing and suffocating. Such category of people may just about become unfit for any organisation and for any type of work where strict monitoring is done. This would add to their already anxious mind and make them ill.
Perhaps people need to be trained and told the purpose of monitoring and how it will be used. Moreover it should not be used as just as a technological fad without any actual benefits. Perhaps we need serious research to be done to throw light on its benefits and its disadvantages.