If you’ve never used employee computer monitoring software at your company, you might be inclined to think that the answer to this question is ‘negatively’. You might think that employees are going to see it as a sign of distrust and boycott it or maybe focus more on computer time management software than the actual work. Either way, productivity suffers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. What we’ve just described is nobody’s natural reaction if employee surveillance and monitoring is implemented carefully and if you educate your workers about what you’ll be tracking and why.
Having done that, it has been shown in many cases that the much more likely initial reaction to employee computer monitoring software is increased productivity. And we’re not talking about using tracking insights to boost performance - this goes without saying. We’re talking about employees’ pure self-initiated reaction to the mere fact that their performance is going to be monitored.
Let us introduce the Hawthorne effect, otherwise known as the observer effect. It’s a term in psychology and research that describes a phenomenon when subjects change their typical behavior upon and as a result of being told that they’re being watched. But what’s a devastating setback for researchers is actually a very welcome byproduct in a business setting.
So the general claim is this: Just knowing that they’re going to be monitored by a computer usage tracker will make employees more productive. This general claim isn’t very convincing, so we’re going to be looking at some of the reasons why this effect takes place.
It’s All in the Perception
Employees’ first conscious thought after finding out they’ll be watched is: ‘My boss is going to see my activities and performance in detail and throughout the whole process’. More often than not, the thought that follows it is: ‘I better make sure I look good’.
Just as we intuitively smile and fix our hair when the camera lens are directed at us, employees are going to try and present the best and most productive version of themselves when they’re faced with employee computer monitoring software.
They don’t want you to see all their productivity flaws - procrastination, excessive breaks, distractions, occasional slow pace of work - regardless of how natural and common all these things are. Instead, they’ll want to be seen as the epitome of hard work and productivity. For this reason, PC activity monitor is a very strong motivator during this initial period of time.
Awareness and Focus on the Aspects That are Monitored
Once you implement employee computer monitoring software and explain your workers what will be tracked, you’ve made a sort of road sign that points to the details that count towards performance assessment.
Now that your employees realize that, for instance, the frequency of use of unproductive apps like social media and news websites is a big factor in estimating their productivity, they’ll have the opportunity to focus on improving these things. And directing these efforts is even more effective if you choose to give workers access to their employee time data.
Fear of Negative Consequences
Finally, the aspect of the observer effect that you should least want to encourage and maintain but that could still be a factor in improving employees’ initial performance is their natural avoidance of punishment.
If they feel like low productivity could lead to bad evaluation, demotion, lower accountability and respect or any other negative outcome, they might be prompted to do everything they can to avoid this, which your PC usage monitor will register as high productivity.
Again, even though this is one of the likely explanations for increased productivity, we’re reiterating that it’s not something that should be cultivated. Good performance based on fear is inevitably followed by stress and hostility towards upper management.
How Permanent are These Effects?
This all sounds nice but if you’re hoping that PC system monitoring software will create permanently productive employees just by the virtue of instigating the observer effect, we’ve got some bad news - the effects described above are very common and noticeable but they’re not sustainable.
It’s kind of like buying an oven that’s advertised to ‘bake awesome cookies’ and expecting to get these cookies without making the dough and putting it in the oven. You just can’t buy software that tracks computer activity, do nothing and expect that all of your employees will instantly be super productive and stay that way forever.
Employee computer monitoring software isn’t a magic spell. It’s a tool used for measuring and tracking performance. It’s up to you to figure out how to use this data in order to actively try and optimize employee productivity and performance. That’s the only way to get long-term results.
Hardly anything can get you instant results, especially when it comes to productivity. However, employee computer monitoring software can and now you know why. But you should also keep in mind that this effect isn’t what you’re looking for in the long run and should only serve as an initial performance push in the right direction. The real lasting change demands careful planning, smart decisions and a little bit of time.