Employers using AI to monitor workers negatively impact employees

As companies implement office-to-office plans, employers are increasingly using artificial intelligence not to replace workers, but to monitor them.

Between March 2020 and June 2023, demand for employee surveillance software grew 54%, according to research by Top10VPN, a virtual private network comparison site.

And employees are taking notice. According to data from the American Psychological Association, fifty percent of people say they are aware that their employer uses technology to monitor them while they are at work.

Knowing they are being watched has a negative psychological effect.

According to data from the APA, nearly a third, 32%, of employees who know their bosses are using technology report their mental health is fair or poor. Only 24% of those not monitored said the same. Almost half of those being monitored, 45%, say their workplace has a negative impact on their mental health, versus 29% of those not being monitored.

Pre-pandemic, the most common form of monitoring was badge swipes, Brian Kropp, vice president of human resources research firm Gartner Inc., told The Wall Street Journal. Now, employers are using technology to track when workers are logging on and off, who they’re communicating with, and what they’re saying.

One software, Traqq, “will search and report apps and websites that a user spends more than 10 seconds on,” according to its website. Another software called Time Doctor allows for “ethical video screen recording” so employers can see if workers are “actually working on their tasks or watching a Netflix show instead,” according to its site.

According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, most Americans oppose this type of tracking. In fact, 81% of workers said AI monitoring technology would make them feel they were being watched unfairly.

That will undoubtedly result in strained relationships between bosses and those they manage, Leslie Hammer, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University and co-director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, told APA.

“When employees feel that they are not cared for or trusted by their employers, they are more likely to have lower levels of commitment to the organization and experience higher levels of psychological safety and stress, all of which negatively affect the relationship between employees and their employers. . , and especially their managers and supervisors,” Hammer said.

According to data from the Pew Research Center, few employees saw some potential positive effects of AI monitoring. Almost half, 49%, say workplace safety will improve and 46% say workplace misconduct will decrease.

Generally, though, workers agree that there are more downsides than upsides.

“Compared to the stress, strain and burnout benefits associated with electronic monitoring, in most businesses, it’s not warranted,” Hammer told APA. “It sends a message of distrust and creates feelings of anxiety that can negatively impact employees’ mental health, physical health and job performance.”

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