In the battle against “quiet quitting” and other obstacles to productivity in the workplace, companies are increasingly turning to an array of sophisticated tools to watch and analyze how employees do their jobs. The sobering news for America’s bosses: These technologies can fall short of their promises, and even be counterproductive.
Patchy evidence for the effectiveness of workplace monitoring tech hasn’t stopped it from sweeping through U.S. companies over the past 2½ years. Since the start of the pandemic, one in three medium-to-large U.S. companies has adopted some kind of worker surveillance system, and the total fraction using such systems is now two in three, says Brian Kropp, vice president of HR research at Gartner. While there is a broad spectrum of how these systems work and what data they gather, many of them include constant monitoring of nearly everything workers do on their devices.
That is a pace of adoption that is rare in the history of technology—even at the steepest part of the curve of its embrace by Americans, not even the smartphone spread as quickly. This technological shift is particularly jarring for white collar workers who have tended to have greater leeway in their work practices than blue-collar workers who have to punch time clocks.
In changing the very nature of work, how it is perceived by those doing it, and what companies can expect of workers, this shift has the potential to represent a profound unbalancing of the power between employee and employer, say those who study it and even some within the industry who create it.