Digging into data

Monitoring your employees doesn't make them more productive, but this does

To build trust, stop monitoring employees—and use people data to empower them
Monitoring your employees doesn't make them more productive, but this does
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Ian White is the CEO, CTO, and founder of ChartHop, a people analytics platform. He was the founder and CTO of Sailthru, a marketing cloud company, and the first head of engineering at Business Insider.

Imagine having to justify your actions to a supervisor every time you use the bathroom, grab a snack, or consult with a colleague. Those everyday workday activities can cost employees compensation and privacy, yet more companies, including Microsoft and UnitedHealth Group, are adopting worker productivity scores.

Monitoring software helps calculate a score by tracking employee inactivity and comparing employee productivity. So, when that trip to the bathroom is logged as “idle,” employees could get dinged. However, idle keyboard activity isn’t indicative of decreased productivity. For example, UnitedHealth social workers step away from their computers to counsel patients in drug treatment facilities.

Companies say they gain efficiency and accountability from worker productivity scores, but at what cost? These feelings damage employee morale, lead to higher turnover, and impact an organization’s bottom line. Some workers characterize tracking as demoralizing, humiliating, and toxic.

Leaders can cultivate a culture of trust, transparency, and productivity by using technology that is decidedly not big brother tech. Using people data empowers employees with information, formalizes communications, and leads by example. People data—like compensation and performance reviews, employee surveys, and feedback—must work for employees, not just employers.

A stronger workforce emerges when employees build organizational awareness and feel connected and supported, leading to more robust productivity and business outcomes.

Leverage people data to empower employees

Data from employee monitoring systems works for leaders, not employees. A productivity score doesn’t give the complete picture of an employee’s performance. Monitoring software can’t track certain forms of team development and completed tasks and goals, but technical problems can arise and impact scores. What if an employee’s computer gets stuck in idle mode, skewing their numbers, for example?

Many employees feel stressed that monitoring systems could miss some of their vital, offline work. For example, over 35% of employees say they spend between two and three hours in daily meetings—downtime not captured by metrics. Is it fair for companies unable to track or prove the effectiveness of these meetings to punish employees for carrying out their responsibilities?

Leaders should leverage different types of technology that work for employees to empower and reduce the pressure on employees. People data platforms centralize disparate sources of people data from human resource information systems (HRIS), making insights accessible for all employees to act on. For example, full visibility of organizational charts enables all employees to connect with the right colleague to get their job done. Sharing salary benchmarks with definitive criteria also gives employees a clear growth path.

This isn’t the big brother data of keyboard tracking—instead, it’s employee feedback, employee net promoter scores (eNPS), upskilling plans, 1:1s notes and history, and managing career progress. This data becomes a powerful tool to enhance morale, improve management practices, and inspire connections with colleagues, all while fostering transparency since everyone in the organization can access it.

Ultimately, when data like this is shared across an organization, it creates visibility and flips employee data on its head by taking an employee-first approach.

With people data built for people, employees understand:

  • What they need to accomplish to deliver results
  • How they contribute to the overall bigger picture
  • How to stay connected to the rest of the organization

An increase in transparency clarifies individual growth, inspiring and empowering employees to accomplish their goals without micromanagement.

Deep and wide communication to build organizational awareness

As an organization scales, keeping all employees on the same page requires consistent communication across several touchpoints: all-hands meetings, team meetings, 1:1 check-ins, asynchronous tools like Slack, and email.

Transparency about core values, company and team goals, and mission statements ensures nothing gets lost in translation. Leaders shouldn’t just run through the numbers. They should plan and host meaningful intention-driven meetings to share where the business stands and what’s next. Executives must also make themselves and their decisions available to their people instead of being unapproachable figureheads.

By formalizing communications through scheduled check-ins and meetings, leaders signal that they care about workplace culture and are committed to building trust. Without this trust, employees may struggle to remain engaged or feel a sense of belonging.

Leaders must help their reports align their individual goals with the organization’s needs, which improves employee productivity by more than 55%. Regular 1:1s and all-hands meetings throughout the year keep employees and their leaders on the same page. 1:1s also allow leaders to offer in-the-moment training so employees can use their organizational awareness and continue hitting goals (and eventually earn promotions or bonuses).

If leaders don’t consistently communicate with employees, people feel less connected to their company’s mission and start filling in the gaps with their own—often negative—assumptions. A transparent approach provides employees with concrete, accurate information that establishes their organization as a dependable resource.

Transparency and frequent touch-points build performance

True transparency requires buy-in from executive leadership. When leaders embrace honesty and authenticity, their teams feel supported, prepared, and respected. More than half of employees have an improved sense of belonging at work when they think their leaders have their backs. Organizations using employee monitoring systems lose their employees’ trust in leadership. After all, it’s unlikely companies monitor their leaders with the same tools.

Leaders should adopt an open-door policy, making themselves available to their people and willingly welcome questions about decision-making (or, better yet, inviting their employees to contribute to decision-making). This approach stops an “us versus them” culture from growing. A broken or misaligned culture creates subpar performances, interpersonal conflict, and discriminatory practices.

Another useful tool? Regularly-scheduled company-wide meetings that allow leaders to share where the organization stands and next steps. Employees can submit questions anonymously for executives to address during this all-hands setting.

Leaders must move past the worker productivity score to see their people do their best daily. Productivity starts with an organization’s culture. By creating and consistently improving workplace culture, an organization can cultivate an environment where employees feel engaged and valued, leading to better business outcomes.