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Employees fear ‘Big Brother’
January 18, 2005
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Alexandria, Va. and Princeton, N.J. – Technology allows organizations to easily monitor employee activities at work but employees believe that management is watching over them for the wrong reasons, according to the 2005 Workplace Privacy Survey of 336 HR professionals and 520 employees released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and CareerJournal.com.

The survey found that employees think the motivations behind monitoring at work are to check employee productivity levels and job performance, and because management does not trust employees. However, according to HR professionals, the reasons organizations monitor employee behavior is to prevent computer viruses, hackers and others from interfering with business operations, and to protect the organization's proprietary information.

Employees have become more cautious about Internet usage while at work because they believe that their behavior may be monitored by their organizations. More companies are starting to block instant messaging and employee access to personal email accounts. Twenty-five percent of HR professionals surveyed indicated that the level of employee monitoring has increased as a result of 9/11.

"Because it's easily misused, many companies have instituted policies regarding employee use of the Internet at work," says Tony Lee, Editor in Chief, CareerJournal.com. "It's reasonable for organizations to monitor employee Internet usage, but certain activities should remain private."

"Due to the amount of company specific information and level of dependency that most organizations have on their computer systems, it is essential that organizations take steps to monitor their networks to ensure the integrity of proprietary information and to prevent viruses and hackers from accessing the networks," says Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR, President and CEO of SHRM.  "It is also essential that employees are made aware of this security step and the purpose of company networks and property."

HR professionals and employees agreed that organizations should not read employee postal mail, listen to employee telephone conversations, and search employee desks and offices without cause.

The survey found that HR professionals were more likely than employees to agree that organizations have the right to monitor the use of cell phones in the workplace (76 percent compared with 52 percent, respectively), and that organizations have the right to search employee desks and offices (49 percent compared with 23 percent) although overall both groups tended to disagree with this action.

The survey also compared privacy at non-profit vs. profit organizations and found that for-profit organizations track employee expense reports and employee movement at work more frequently than non-profit organizations. On the other hand, non-profit organizations track employee telephone use more frequently than for-profit organizations.

SHRM and CareerJournal.com conducted the survey to determine opinions about workplace privacy from the perspectives of both human resource (HR) professionals and employees.  The survey questions were e-mailed to randomly selected SHRM members, yielding 336 responses from HR professionals, and employee data were gathered from a convenience sample of CareerJournal.com Web site visitors through a pop-up window directing them to the online poll bearing 520 responses.

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