When you enter an office, you sign away some of your personal freedoms. There are plenty of common privacy misconceptions, and many people fail to realize that if you’re on company time and a on company computer, your employer is permitted to read your emails, log your keystrokes, and watch you work. It’s an invasion of privacy to be sure, but employers have been giving employees fair warning on what they’ll be monitoring. HR usually does this on day one, having you sign a paper acknowledging you’ll be monitored. It almost resembles a Terms of Service Agreement you might click to accept to use iTunes — just a little less dense and difficult to read.
“Employees should assume that they are going to be watched,” said CEO Stephen Marsh to USA Today. Employers monitor employees on the premise that if they know what their workers are doing, they can increase productivity. There’s a whole science dedicated to workplace analysis, after all. Some studies have found that workers benefit from increased social interaction, which has caused cubicles to become open offices and coffee breaks extended. But there are also some privacy concerns involved.
Some companies take it to another level by bringing employees’ social networks into the mix, causing some people to be terminated over things they said even if they weren’t logged in on company time. (Yet another reason to peruse the list of things you shouldn’t post on Facebook.) We’re entering a new age where bosses have more means to analyze and track employees, which may mean policies governing workers’ rights need to be taken into account. But everyone needs to be aware of what’s going on before policies can change. Here are a few ways your boss could be watching you.
1. Monitoring your activity on social media
In the office and out, social networks like Facebook and Twitter are a great way for companies to monitor your thoughts and activities. Office employees will often Facebook friend their coworkers and even their managers. This kind of care-free social networking could put you in a difficult position if your manager wants you off of her team. If the company’s social media policy allows using social network posts as a reason for termination, your manager could use your party pictures as proof of your declining performance at work.
But ill-advised photos of your after-hours activity aren’t the only social media posts that can work against you. If you speak out against the company or voice opinions that are contrary to what the company finds appropriate, you could be terminated. Anthony Cumia from SiriusXM’s Opie and Anthony radio show got canned after some racially charged tweets. While the tweets weren’t made on company property or company time, Cumia was a representative of SiriusXM, and his comments had the potential to hurt the brand. It’s important to pay attention when you receive your welcome packet from HR. Ask your HR representative about the company’s social media policy. That way, you’ll know whether or not to avoid friend requests or refrain from sharing your Twitter handle.
2. Capturing video that feeds into the larger picture
One of the more traditional ways that corporations have been tracking their employees is through good old-fashioned surveillance cameras. However, software has helped to turn these devices into sophisticated analytic machines. It’s not just about figuring out who has been stealing lunches from the company fridge anymore — it’s about charting movement that feeds into a larger picture of productivity. One restaurant has a digital sentinel watching over its waiters to track the orders that each waiter takes, determine how many customers they can handle, and calculate the level of sales that each can make. This software has helped managers take employees aside whose sales are dipping to see how and where their skills need to be built up. Increasingly, your behavior anytime you’re at the office or your place of work will be tracked and analyzed — something you might want to know if you’re in the habit of slacking off on the job.
3. Tracking your activity on company smartphones
Some companies give out smartphones for employees to use for off-the-clock emergencies, or to help them stay connected to the office while they’re on projects or worksites away from their desk. But using your company phone for anything other than work may not be recommended.
Most companies install keyloggers to track and monitor what you’re doing on your smartphone, but some take it a step further by enabling GPS tracking. This spyware can let the company know when you’re away from the office during company hours, and maybe even when you’re taking that “sick day” on the beach. When you receive the phone, ask what the company is legally allowed by law and by its own rules to track on your offically-issued smartphone.
4. Watching your screen
Using company resources to update your Facebook status, check out the latest Beyoncé video, or read up on how to cut your own hair? Your company probably knows, or at least has the technology to find out. When most people sign on to work for a company, there’s an acknowledgement that the business has the right to monitor your computer activity. You’re using the company computer after all, which means that when you’re checking personal email, the company can read those emails.
Not only that, but your company can monitor your keystrokes, which can reveal passwords to any personal accounts you’re checking on surreptitiously. Hope that if you ever logged on to your bank account at work, there are no nefarious types that work in IT that want to collect your information. And you have more to worry about than your passwords. If a company thinks that you’re searching for another job and you’ve logged into your personal email at work, it can comb through your correspondences. If the company finds something that proves you guilty, you could find yourself without a job.