Big brother bosses 'are bad for business'

Mar 11 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Employers in the UK who use new technologies to secretly monitor the workplace are damaging their staff's productivity and health as well as breaking the law, a new report has warned.

'Stop snooping’, a report in the latest edition of the TUC-backed Hazards magazine, has uncovered evidence of big-brother bosses in the UK and abroad eavesdropping telephone calls, measuring toilet breaks, monitoring emails, internet use and computer work and using CCTV, hidden cameras, smart cards and tracking devices to keep an eye on other work activities.

Examples included a case in which cameras had been installed in a locker room used by female staff to change. The employer, Securicor said the cameras had been installed in the wrong room.

But such activities are not only bad for their productivity, the TUC claims, it is also normally illegal under the Data Protection Act.

Furthermore, it says, the largely unregulated rise in drug, alcohol and health testing of employees in the UK, plus the real threat of genetic screening being used to ‘weed-out’ unsuitable staff or applicants, has prompted the Information Commissioner to propose a Code to protect the privacy of information about workers’ health.

"There has been an unregulated boom in the intrusive and ineffective drug, drink and health testing of employees," said TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber. "The positive step to tackle this needs to be toughened up to make sure tests are only used when absolutely necessary."

The report draws on a US study showing that monitored workers suffered more work dissatisfaction, depression, extreme anxiety, exhaustion, strain injuries and neck problems than unmonitored workers.

Other research has shown that a lack of autonomy at work is a major cause of work-related stress and strains, heart diseases and sickness.

Rory O’Neil, the report's editor, said that snooping on employees was pure folly. "Productivity goes down, accidents, ill-health and sick leave go up and the workforce feel more like felons than valued employees.

"If employers want to know what their staff are doing they should ask them. Consultation and participation are not dirty words, they are the key to a productive workplace."