Productivity vs. privacy for an organization's workforce.

Author:Baglione, Stephen L.

    Technology, globalization, and the free flow of capital have collectively, independently, and irreversible changed our economy. It is common to see competition from foreign companies eviscerating domestic industries. Free trade promulgated through government and non-governmental agencies such as the World Trade Organization have forced domestic firms into competition with an ever-expanding list of competitors. The free flow of money across international boundaries has created and rewarded victors in these international wars. This makes employees an ever increasing tool for company survival in our service-dominated economy, workers are the true competitive advantage (Maly, 2007; Wagner, 2007).

    Firms are continually seeking ways to enhance productivity and minimize expenses, relying on technology to ensure the best are hired and retained. A recent study indicated that almost half of applicants lied about work histories and education (Compensation & Benefits for Law Offices, 2006). This may be exacerbated by the recession (Zalud, 2009). Twenty percent of Fortune 100 firms use personality testing in pre-employment screening (Piotrowski and Armstrong, 2006). Technology is used in pre-employment screening: conducting background checks (criminal and financial), reviewing social networking sites or other Internet-related data, administering personality and aptitude testing, conducting polygraph and drug tests, supplementing the traditional reference checks and school transcripts. Technology is subjecting current employees to constant surveillance while working to ensure outside distractions do not reduce productivity: monitoring what you do, where you do it (global positioning satellites) including telephone, computer, and Internet activity. Mandatory wellness program are being created to reduce medical expenses. Appearance restrictions are being implemented. Companies have even started restricting risky off-duty activities such as skydiving. Pre-employment screening has incorporated newer technology: social networking site reviews, personality and aptitudes tests, and Google searches. It has also made standard fares such as background checks, credit reports, and drivers license checks quicker (Arnold, 2008). Reliance on newer technology has also become a necessity. Many firms are reticent to provide anything but basic information (employment dates and job title) about prior employees because former employees may sue for defamation (Sprague, 2007).

    1.1 Electronic Monitoring

    Electronic monitoring (EM) is ubiquitous in our society from the black boxes in our cars to security cameras. Law enforcement is a pioneer in EM. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security spent over $51 million in 2006 on video surveillance in its attempt to combat terrorism and reduce illegal immigration (Tenereitllo, 2006). American public surveillance palls in comparison to the world's most "watched" city: London (Bonokoski, 2007). The FBI is building "the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics" which will include, when requested by employers, employees' fingerprints and criminal history from background checks (Nakashima, 2007, p. 8).

    Law enforcement's impetus has been both fiscal and constitutional: reduce incarceration expenses and provide alternatives for court ordered prison overcrowding (Roy and Barton, 2006). EM is used in location-tracking (sex offenders), monitoring aggressive driving (habitual traffic violators), and alcohol consumption (drunk drivers) (USA Today, 2006). EM has had impressive results as it has reduced "the likelihood of technical violations, reoffending, and absconding" (Padgett et al., 2006, p.82). When assessing the effectiveness of EM, personality and demographics must also be taken into consideration. Older offenders and those convicted of felonies were more successful with EM than young offenders and those convicted of misdemeanors (Roy and Barton, 2006).

    A further area in which EM has become prevalent is in the workplace. Workplace interruptions cost U.S. businesses $650 billion annually in lost productivity consuming almost 28 percent of the workday (Jackson, 2008). E-mail monitoring at work has increased over 60 percent from 2003 to 2005 (Nolan, 2003; American Management Association, 2005). Workplace monitoring may be necessary for firms to operate efficiently. When employees misuse e-mail and Internet access at work, employers may be liable (Borstorff et al., 2007). Monitoring also has tangible consequences: almost 25 percent of firms fired an employee for misusing e-mail or the Internet (DePree and Jude, 2006). The most cited violations for firing include: "company policy (64%); inappropriate or offensive language (62%), excessive personal use (26%), and breach of confidentially rules (22%)" (Journal of Accountancy, 2008, p. 26). Monitoring work e-mail may increase productivity and ensure security (DePree and Jude, 2006; Mesenbrink, 2000). New software can alert managers when employees are surfing the net instead of engaging in productive work (BusinessWeek, 2008). Shipping companies have monitored employees for years to ensure they do not deviate from transportation routes. Monitoring is now cheaper through cell phones (Communications of the ACM, 2006). Fifty one percent of firms use video surveillance, up from 33 percent four years earlier (American Management Association, 2005). Time cards in many organizations are being replaced by scanning employees' hands, making it almost impossible for one worker to "clock in" another worker. This does create unintended, although small, consequences: lost productivity from workers infecting each other after touching the scanners and employees who suddenly gain weight becoming unrecognizable to the machine (Duffin, 2007). Accenture found that monitoring employee locations during the workday has more than tripled collaboration among lab workers and improved hiring, assignment, and facility planning measures (Freedman, 2006).

    Critics believe EM creates stress, turnover, (Batt, Colvin and Keefe, 2002) and job dissatisfaction (Zweig and Webster, 2002). As stated previously, psychographics and demographics also affect the extent to which EM is successful in the workplace. Women report higher stress levels from monitoring than men (Panina, 2002). They are more aware of this type of oversight than men (Borstorff et al., 2007). Extroverts are more likely to accept EM (Zweig and Webster, 2003). Students in a graduate human resource management class were more negative about the monitoring of activities that occurred outside work: weight restrictions and smoking (Cohen and Cohen, 2007). Although workplace monitoring may offend some, nearly a third of adults would use technology to monitor their children's movements (Freedman, 2006).

    1.2 Drugs

    Drugs in the workplace affect productivity, morale, health costs, and safety. Alcohol and drugs are responsible for one in six on-the-job fatalities. A before-and-after study at Southern Pacific Railroad found accidents dropped from 2,234 to 322 after implementing drug testing (Current, 2002). Another employer--even after offering free drug treatment--lost 25 percent of its workforce after implementing drug testing (Brodsky, 2004).

    Questions about testing abound: As more people are tested, fewer positives are detected (M.B., 2002). In 1990 the federal government spent $11.7 million testing 29,000 employees and found 153 positives or $77,000 per positive result (Ehrenreich, 2000). These tests do not detect the largest abused drug: alcohol. A National Academy of Sciences study found: "There is as yet no conclusive scientific evidence from properly controlled studies that employment drug-testing programs widely discourage drug use or encourage rehabilitation" (M.B., 2002, p. 50). However, one study found that nearly 30 percent of drug users avoid employers who conducted random testing (Delogu, 2007). Post-accident drug testing has been shown to reduce injury claims (Morantz, 2008).

    1.3 Personality Tests

    Personality tests are designed to measure whether the employee has the requisite skills to succeed within the organization. Outback Steakhouse "attributes low rates (turnover for hourly employees) to a customized pre-employment assessment testing tool used by the hiring managers at all of the 700 restaurants in the chain" (Gale, 2002, p. 69). However, "empirical research has consistently demonstrated that job applicants (both in the laboratory using instructional sets and in field settings) distort responses on personality measures to appear more qualified for a position" (Bott et al., 2007, p. 123). One study finds no gender differences on personality tests and small ethnic differences (Ones and Anderson, 2002). Test answers are often available online. These tests may violate disabilities law if questions incorporate addiction or certain psychological issues (HR Focus, 2005).

    1.4 Background Checks

    Background checks can include criminal, credit, driving, and medical data. This will include multiple databases over countless jurisdictions creating the potential for error. Criminal records in one study of 120 current parolees in Virginia found only 56 had criminal records according to county courts (Wells, 2008). Another study "analyzing a sampling of 93,274 background checks in...

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