Some managers have this desire to monitor what their employees are doing online during work hours. They monitor emails, track website activities and poke around in other places to satisfy their curiosities. Unfortunately, it’s not at all uncommon, and online monitoring is probably one of the best ways a manager can tell his or her employees that they don’t trust them. Not the cornerstone of a healthy, professional relationship.
Yes, managers have every right to know what their employees are doing every minute of every day on company time, but placing employees under the microscope is an extreme case of managing through fear and intimidation. It’s an approach that has proven to be both counter-productive and damaging.
I’ve identified three reasons to explain why some managers choose to monitor their employees’ email conversations and Internet activities:
1. The most common reason, I believe, is because the manager may not have anything better to do. Some managers may use “monitoring” as an excuse for maintaining quality control and/or to make sure people aren’t adding any fat to their timesheets for work they didn’t do. However, if an employee is not completing his or her work in a timely manner, the manager needs to address those concerns head-on to solve the problem. If performance doesn’t improve, or if things get worse, decisions need to be made as to whether or not the employee is in a job he or she can handle. If employees are surfing more than working, they are shooting themselves in the foot.
2. The manager has a perceived legitimate reason not to trust his of her employee. In this scenario, monitoring emails, visited web pages and watching interactions on social media sites is an exercise in futility. In other words, there is nothing to be gained. When the trust between an employee and his or her manager has been compromised, it’s time to have a conversation to get to the core of the problem and determine why the trust was violated. However, getting to the core of, and identifying the real problem will require a very specific set of communication skills that can be acquired in a strong leadership training program, such as L.E.T., Leader Effectiveness Training. If trust is habitually violated, it’s time to do what needs to be done. If it’s a one-time occurrence, it may be nothing more than a simple misunderstanding.
3. The employee is underperforming. More often than not, underperformance is not a sign of spending (too much) time goofing around online. Rather, it’s usually due to deeper issues such as conflicts with team members, lack of clarity or direction from management, or a very distracting personal issue that can’t be left at the door when coming to work. Just as in #1 and #2 above, the manager needs to confront the problem to identify the reason(s) for underperformance.
It’s unrealistic to think that an employee will never send out a quick personal email, briefly check out a website of personal interest or make a quick personal phone call to take care of personal business matters during the work day. These momentary diversions are sometimes necessary “breathers” in-between long stretches of deep concentration. In other words, these brief breaks allow the brain to reboot and re-engage into the next task at hand.
Perhaps the better approach is to let it go, set clear expectations and manage based on performance.