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Leon Kaye headshot

Stop Spying on Your Employees: It’s Creepy, and They’re Probably ‘Quiet Quitting’ Anyway

Investments in workplace monitoring software are getting out of hand, and the spying is contributing its own bit to the quiet quitting trend across the U.S.
By Leon Kaye

In case you missed it, the monitoring of workers — whether it’s through tallying up idle time or keyboard strokes — is happening just about everywhere. As employers seek to have staffers return to the office, companies are spending big money on software applications that monitor employees’ activities remotely via their computers. And the spying madness is affecting everyone: financial professionals, social workers and, absurdly enough, even hospice chaplains. 

Employers as well as the software companies vested in this space say it’s not about spying, but instead such systems can ensure and boost productivity. Additional commentators have said that remote work needs to end, if not “vanish,” as they insist working away from the office gets in the way of “synergy, collaboration and innovation,” though based on how often those words are tossed about, the bar for what passes as definitions for those three words is very low.

The insanity over how companies have deployed these monitoring systems has reached the point at which employees find themselves defending their decisions to go to the bathroom — as the New York Times recently profiled — or getting a cup of coffee (news flash: those two actions together often form their own synergy). It’s no wonder why more workers are pushing back against this stealth spying in their own way — now known as “quiet quitting.”

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So, what is quiet quitting? It’s both a TikTok phenomenon and a form of workplace behavior that has been around for ages. Quiet quitting is also known by other names: doing the bare minimum, going through the motions, not working one minute past one’s shift, or setting boundaries between employees and their managers.

As for the links between quiet quitting and monitoring software, the latter offers few results other than imparting a lack of trust between a company’s management and employees. But based on the economic numbers, even with the threats of inflation and recession, it’s clear that at a macro level, employees are doing the job and then some. The effects of the pandemic are still lingering, as many employees — especially women, people of color and LGBTQ people — find value in remote work and don’t miss the slights, microaggressions, and pleas to do extra unpaid work at the office that isn’t usually asked as frequently of their straight white (often male) cis peers. 

Nevertheless, these employees’ concerns are often left unheeded. Take JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who during a recent call with the firm’s wealthy clients claimed that remote work results in a corporate culture that lacks trust and can lead to procrastination. “A lot of people at home are texting each other, sometimes saying what a jerk that person is,” Dimon reportedly said.

News flash: Texting each other in the office is a fairly common occurrence, too.

There are plenty of doubters when it comes to the wisdom of any deployment of a technology-based snitch culture, especially when it's wired up at a company's physical office. “A mutual lack of trust quickly snowballs into an avalanche of issues, leading to lower productivity, lower engagement, lower satisfaction and higher burnout,” Artis Rozentals wrote for Forbes earlier this month. “We won't even touch on the ethics of such unconstrained intrusion on personal space.”

It’s clear that lack of constraint is already snowballing. We’ve been talking about the “great resignation,” or the “great reset,” and now we should be discussing the “great retreat” — as that is what managers should expect from employees if they refuse, or are unable, to build a culture of trust within their organizations. Employees may not bolt right away, but they will still find ways to perform their job duties at a baseline level and simply leave it at that.

Finally, if an employee’s numbers are flagging, it turns out that a remote employee was getting away with working a second job, or calls and emails aren’t getting logged into the CRM — sure, there’s a challenge with that employee. But there’s an even bigger problem with that person’s supervising manager. Shouldn’t that manager be able to monitor their direct reports’ contributions without someone in HR investing in see, spy and snitch software? An enterprise-wide spying solution won’t solve the problem: Instead, it will creep out your employees as well as demolish their enthusiasm and motivation.

Image credit: Ashley Anthony via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye