sealPurdue News

April 2001

Workplace surveillance may inhibit productivity

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University expert on workplace surveillance suspects some employers may be "shooting themselves in the foot" when it comes to electronically monitoring their workers.

"Most companies institute employee surveillance for one of two reasons; information security, or to try to boost productivity as part of a quality improvement or customer service program," explains Carl Botan, a professor of communication and a member of Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. "Unfortunately, a common issue with quality improvement programs – regardless of industry – is that improvement is invariably measured by quantitative data. And when employees know they're being monitored, then tend to believe that the boss is more concerned about the quantity of work rather than quality."

Botan is in the final application stages for a National Science Foundation grant that, if approved, will be used to conduct the first-ever random nationwide survey of employees and their feelings about surveillance on the job.

"Right now the best statistics available on the subject come from the American Management Association, but their survey is limited to major firms and the data is collected from managers rather the workers," Botan says. "According to the AMA's latest data, 75 percent of major U.S. companies electronically monitor their employees to some degree, but we have only anecdotal information about how employees react to it. I suspect there are effects of that surveillance beyond the employers' intent and that much of it is negative. The study I'm preparing should help determine whether or not my theory is correct."

Botan's preliminary data suggests employees who know they are being electronically monitored have less of a sense of control over their workplace experiences than non-monitored workers and that can undermine confidence and quality of work life.

"It's reasonable to assume that some workers would interpret a newly implemented surveillance system as a message that their employers don't trust them or that their work isn't any good," Botan says. "How is that going to impact a person's enthusiasm for coming in to work? How will it affect employee loyalty and turnover? These are issues that managers really need to think about when considering surveillance as part of their quality improvement efforts."

CONTACT: Carl Botan, (765) 494-3319,

Compiled by Sharon A. Bowker, (765) 494-9723;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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