Includes desk movement sensors…and seven other ways companies have totally spied on their staff.
The discovery of heat and movement sensors fixed to workers’ desks at one major British employer has led to accusations that bosses care more about their bottom line than they do about workplace relations.
That’s the view of a nationwide workplace law consultancy, which says whatever reason the Employers gives for placing the devices on staff members desks, the lack of trust could be fatal for any organisation.
According to the Protecting.co.uk company, this is just one of many ham-fisted decisions made by bosses up and down the country that have proved toxic for employer-staff relations.
“People hate the feeling that they’re being spied on by their bosses, and it all leads to an unhappy workplace,” says Protecting.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall. “And as this story proves, it can be fatal for a company’s reputation once it becomes public. This is a new low for workplace relations.”
• According to reports, Daily Telegraph journalists arrived at work to find sensors attached to their work stations which can tell by body heat whether they are working or not.
• Telegraph management stated that the devices are part of an “environmental study”, but union representatives are furious that staff movements are being recorded in this way.
“People deserve a basic level of privacy even when they are at work,” says Protecting.co.uk’s Mark Hall. “You don’t expect to have to put your hand up and tell your manager that you need a toilet break.”
Protecting.co.uk maintains a list of other privacy-destroying initiatives by managers and companies who have done their utmost to destroy staff morale. These include seven ways companies have spied on their staff:
• A CCTV camera installed in the staff toilets “to monitor graffiti”
• Forcing staff to clock out for their tea breaks
• Limiting the number of toilet breaks staff are allowed per day
• A company which promoted a reward scheme for informing on colleagues’ behaviour, which was described by one worker as “not far off what Josef Stalin was trying to do”.
• One manager demanded a grave-side photograph to prove that an employee was actually at a funeral as claimed
• Similarly, managers have demanded photographic proof of doctor and dentist waiting rooms
• Companies who have demanded social media passwords “so we can remove any content that brings the organisation into disrepute”
“Some of these ideas not only destroy trust and staff morale, but can also go against workplace law,” Hall says, “Banning toilet breaks, for example, can be seen to be discriminatory if the person involved has an illness or disability. And demanding social media passwords would be simply beyond the pale for most people.”
Hall says the toilet camera was one of the bitterest fallings-out between staff and managers he had ever seen, and came directly from managers’ complete distrust of their employees. It later emerged that the culprit was a teenage intruder from outside the company, but – as Hall says – “the damage had well and truly been done by then, and barely anybody was on speaking terms by the time the whole messy episode came to an end.”
The trust between employer and employee is one of the key factors that maintain good industrial relations in Britain’s workplaces, Protecting’s Mark Hall says. Once this trust has gone, morale collapses, productivity falls and people start looking for work elsewhere.
Even if there is an innocent explanation for the desk sensors, the fact that they arrived unannounced marks a major failure by managers.
“There’s a sure way to destroy workplace morale, and that’s being sneaky,” Hall says. “Bosses need to earn the trust of their staff, not destroy it with stunts like this.”