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Lead Your Team Managing

Balancing Employee Monitoring with Privacy Concerns

Balancing Employee Monitoring with Privacy Concerns
Credit: Mopic/Shutterstock

For today's working professionals, there are almost no boundaries anymore between the technologies they use for business and the ones they use for pleasure. Employees access company emails and files from their own devices, and use their work computers for personal Web browsing. These increasingly blurring lines, thanks in large part to widespread BYOD policies, have led employers to start keeping a watchful eye on what their workers are doing on their devices.

"Monitoring employees' activities on company computers and other devices is important because employers need to know how their devices are being used in their absence," said Ivory Thompson, operations manager at monitoring solutions provider Retina-X Studios. "In doing so, employers will not only prevent abuse of company-owned devices, but they can also determine if employee theft or conflicts of interest are taking place right under their noses. They can then take immediate action before suffering huge financial loss."

But it's not just conflicts of interest, or even lack of productivity due to personal use of work devices that employers need to worry about: Your corporate reputation could be on the line when it comes to what employees post on their social media accounts. [For a side-by-side comparison of the best employee monitoring software, visit our sister site Top Ten Reviews.]

"Every employee now has the ability to publish to social networks," said Michael Idinopulos, chief marketing officer of social optimization software PeopleLinx. "It doesn't matter whether employees are posting from home or from the office. It doesn't even matter whether they're "officially" speaking on behalf of the company. Like it or not, they're representing their employers, especially on business-oriented sites like LinkedIn."

The problem is, employees aren't too thrilled about having their bosses spy on their personal devices and accounts. In fact, several states have introduced bills this year to limit an employer's ability to access employee's social media account, said Bert Spunberg, senior vice president and practice leader for executive risk at small business insurer Hiscox USA.

"The correct and legal measures employers can use to monitor employee activity are constantly changing," Spunberg told Business News Daily. "The best course is to have a clear social media policy distributed to employees and utilize legal counsel to advise on any disciplinary actions related to the social media communications of employees."

Thompson noted that a firm employee usage policy is important for all company-owned computers and devices as well.

"Employers need to have a clear and detailed outline of what is and what is not expected and acceptable on company-owned devices," Thompson said.

If employers are using monitoring software on their workers' devices, employees should be able to feel safe, and know that their personal data is secure. Thompson advised installing mobile malware or antivirus software onto their devices to protect their data. Employees can also encrypt important data to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

In terms of employee social media use, Idinopulos recommended helping and guiding your staff, rather than surveying and invading. Never ask for or demand their login credentials, or ask to post on their behalf. Instead, you can suggest keywords, links, images and videos for employees to include on their social profiles (optionally, of course) that will benefit both their professional reputation and your brand reputation.

It's important not to frame employee data monitoring as a conflict between surveillance and privacy, Idinopulos said. Doing so suggests that companies must weigh their own corporate interests against the rights of its employees, which isn't a very good trade-off.

"Ultimately, a company's procedures must optimize for both corporate reputation and employee rights," Idinopulos said. "When it comes to such fundamental needs, one can't come at the expense of the other."

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole Fallon received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.