Improving Employee Efficiency: Impossible Without Invading Their Privacy?

11 min read
Vlad Kovalskiy
February 26, 2018
Last updated: April 5, 2023
Improving Employee Efficiency: Impossible Without Invading Their Privacy?
What does it take to make people work better and faster? This question has plagued researchers and business owners for years and it seems that the answer is still yet to be found. It’s natural for humanity to try to improve things. From wheel invention to car engines - it seems that nothing is ever good enough.

There are numerous ways to improve productivity. Online apps can help you track your activities and analyze sleep patterns. Productivity workflows such as “Get Things Done” can relieve the stress of having too many tasks on your list. Lastly, go to YouTube and you’ll see hundreds of free videos from productivity coaches in addition to paid coaching lessons. But while we’re getting better at self-improvement and personal development, employee efficiency is a trickier concept. Unlike personal productivity, workplace efficiency is a sensitive topic, for it involves more than one person - the employee and the boss.

When there are two people involved in the process, conflict of interests is unavoidable. Let's take a deeper look at this conflict.

Employee efficiency vs employee privacy conflict

The main issue with workplace productivity is not employees resisting productivity. Most people will gladly accept help and become more efficient. The issue arises when the employer wants to get a clear view on employee productivity and optimize it based on hard data. While the data might provide more control, it can also potentially undermine employee privacy. Additionally, there are many ways to quantify employee’s productivity, but the legal limits aren’t clear yet.

Consider the case of Tesco. The company prompts employees to wear electronic devices that track movements around warehouses. It’s a simple yet effective measure for optimizing performance. Yet bathroom breaks are measured too, and this raises employees’ concerns.

Another interesting case is Amazon. Even though the company is yet to implement the technology, Amazon's employee future is easy to predict - soon every Amazon employee will be wearing a wristband that tracks movement. For the company that puts customer satisfaction on top of its priority list, tracking provides a convenient way to control time spent on each delivery and ensure great customer experience.

Despite the obvious trend towards employee tracking, scientific research is not as supportive of the movement. The research doesn’t deny the positive effects of tracking, but it doesn’t approve tracking either. According to the experts, tracking can be beneficial if it’s applied at the right level and in the right context.

Olin Business School research shows that employee tracking can increase restaurant revenue about 7 percent. Thanks to employee tracking the instances of fraud became rare and employees experienced increased motivation to upsell.

As a counterweight to that view, Harvard Business School research suggests that full transparency isn’t always better. The authors of the research argue that for all the benefits that transparency brings, too much of transparency can cause counterproductive employee behavior. In particular, motivation dwindles and employees start to engage in avoidance and information concealment tactics.

Another interesting fact from the same study is the area of application of tracking tools. Apparently, people perform repetitive tasks better in the presence of others, but having other people around can suppress creative thinking. Thus, musicians create in their abodes but present in front of the audience. Knowing when and how to apply tracking plays a crucial role in improving employee efficiency.

While the research doesn’t give a definitive answer to the problem, it’s not hard to guess the best way to handle employee tracking. The key is finding the perfect balance between transparency and privacy. Some government institutions have strict privacy policies. Small business is generally less restricted by policies and laws. But whether or not employee privacy rights are legally defined, it’s a good business practice to respect employee privacy at a workplace.

Here are some tips to help you strike the balance between privacy and transparency:

1. Identify the right KPIs

KPIs are metrics used for measuring employee performance. The right KPIs are aligned with organizational goals. When KPIs don’t serve the purpose or don’t impact company's bottom line, they only hinder productivity and cause anxiety in employees.

KPIs are a powerful way to boost employee’s performance, but only if they are communicated across the organization. Employees should get enough direction and training on how to improve their KPIs.

2. Engage employees

Measuring employee efficiency is management’s job, but helping employees improve productivity is also management’s responsibility. Often times the executive team is so obsessed with gathering data that they forget how to use it.

Ideally, you would provide access to data to managers as well as employees. Only then employees can see how productive they are and devise ways to improve. Managers, on the other hand, should make it clear that the data isn’t going to be used against employees, rather it is meant to aid one's personal and professional development.

3. Focus on improvement, not monitoring

The success of your tracking program lies in your goals. If you focus on controlling employee behavior, you’re unlikely to see positive results. However, if you set a goal of improving employee productivity, success is almost always guaranteed. Guided by the right goal, you will be in a better position to choose the right tracking measures. For example, installing a spyware software will not improve productivity, but giving employees easy-to-use time tracking tools can help boost efficiency.

Your intention to improve will guide you towards measures that increase productivity as opposed to those that make employees feel insecure and unsafe.

4. Embrace full transparency

Full transparency with employees is a term that relates to how willing you’re to share tracking practices and policy with your employees. Employees need to be aware of all the information that is being collected and captured. They should also understand how the information is used and what goals the company is trying to achieve with tracking.

5. Ignore the small stuff

Employees will only feel comfortable with tracking if they know they aren’t going to be punished for the small mishaps. It should be made clear that tracking is being used for improving efficiency, not spying on others.

Everyone should be allowed to check Facebook once in a while. But also a person's productivity levels differ throughout the day. We all experienced days when nothing can get done. Accept that productivity is a fluid concept and focus on fixing the repetitive bad behavior, not occasional unproductive stunts.

6. Choose the right tools

A major challenge for every business owner is not to choose the tool but to show the tool’s benefits to employees so that they use it without constraints. Some tools are better than others in making people feel comfortable about tracking. In Bitrix24 there are two types of tracking available. There is a time tracking for tasks and projects, so you can see if the project is within the budget.

Additionally, there is a punch clock that employees can use to mark the start and finish of their day. This feature allows for precise payroll calculation and can significantly decrease company’s expenses.

7. Build the right company culture

Lastly, when it comes to employee productivity, measurement and tracking are just the tactics, not the strategy. Studies show that strong organizational culture is a bedrock of productivity. People who are happy at their workplace, enjoy interactions with their coworkers, and are passionate about what they do are naturally more productive. They are also usually more open to any performance improvement and tracking measures initiated by the management.

Final Word

Technology has greatly improved our lives. It has also given us limitless opportunities to collect and share the knowledge. But ultimately, employee efficiency isn’t about collecting data, rather it’s about how data is used by individuals, teams, and company leadership. Maintaining the right balance between productivity and leisurely time, motivation to contribute to company’s goals and freedom to explore personal projects, transparency and privacy are the keys to employee efficiency and overall business health.
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Table of Content
Employee efficiency vs employee privacy conflict Here are some tips to help you strike the balance between privacy and transparency: 1. Identify the right KPIs 2. Engage employees 3. Focus on improvement, not monitoring 4. Embrace full transparency 5. Ignore the small stuff 6. Choose the right tools 7. Build the right company culture Final Word
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