If You’re Gonna Monitor Employee Vehicles, Do It Right
Technology advances are making it increasingly easy for organizations to keep close tabs on their employees in terms of both location and behavior. This is viewed by many organizations as a business necessity; they are most often interested in either improving employee performance or minimizing counterproductive behaviors, such as time theft or the wasting of other resources, like gasoline. If you’re going to use such a program, what should you do to minimize negative employee reactions?
A recent study by Laurel McNall and Jeff Stanton in the Journal of Business and Psychology examines this question by presenting 208 undergraduates with one of four vignettes putting undergraduates in the job of “textbook sales representative,” which carried with it a up-to-100-mile-per-day driving requirement. The four vignettes were the result of a 2×2 design crossing perceived purpose of monitoring (for “punishment” or to improve “customer service”) with the ability to control whether or not the device is turned on (so that it can be disabled in off-hours). There is no statistical control in that no comparison is made to non-monitoring conditions (which is a shame!).
The results indicate that student sense of privacy invasion did indeed change according to control. If employees can turn off their location monitors, this does seem to improve outcomes. But somewhat surprisingly, the perceived purpose did not influence outcomes – whatever the purpose of the monitoring, students interpreted the same level of invasion of privacy from the vignettes.
There were some shortcomings to this study that make interpretation tricky. As the authors point out, students may not have perceived either monitoring purpose as “unfair,” which would have attenuated any observed relationships. This could have been addressed by including the aforementioned statistical control, or alternatively by measuring perceived unfairness explicitly. The study was also conducted on undergraduates and is correlational in nature – there is no way to be sure that these findings will generalize 1) to employees in real organizations or 2) to actual behavior rather than just beliefs about privacy.
So, with that caveat, we can at least give one recommendation pretty confidently: make sure that your employees have the ability to turn off any devices that monitor them. That does raise at least one new question, however: what should an organization do when an employee turns off their monitor at a time when it should be turned on?Footnotes:
- McNall, L., & Stanton, J. (2010). Private eyes are watching you: Reactions to location sensing technologies. Journal of Business and Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10869-010-9189-y [↩]
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