Prying Eyes in the Workplace

At this very moment, an HR rep could be sifting through your Twitter feed in an effort to make you a more efficient employee, or to judge your suitability for a job vacancy. Outraged? You’re not alone. 

Tech Talk- Zeid Nasser 

We’re all well aware that technology is fast transforming the way we work. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that HR departments are increasingly trying to access and utilize personal data from employee social media accounts in an effort to make them more efficient and productive workers.

A study by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) found this form of online monitoring by employers will rise over the next decade as a generation with a more blasé attitude towards sharing personal information online joins the workforce. “By 2020, people currently aged 18-32 will form half of the global workforce, bringing with them different attitudes to technology and personal data,” the report said. In contrast, the report revealed that a mere 36 percent of Generation Y workers said they would be happy to share this type of data with their employers, and only if it led to more job security.

HR and recruitment reps have often snooped around a job candidate’s social media account to learn more about that person’s suitability for the position. In fact, LinkedIn partly exists for the purpose of providing recruiters with glorified online CVs. But now it appears that companies are increasingly pestering their staff for permission to monitor their social media interactions, and they claim it is for their own good.

HR specialists believe your activity on Facebook could provide clues as to why you left a particular job and what could have convinced you to stay. If you find this explanation flimsy, you’re not alone; nearly two-thirds of the 10,000 employees surveyed by the PwC report didn’t like the idea either.

They’re probably powerless to do anything about it, however, as many social media profiles are freely accessible to the public, as is the case with LinkedIn and Twitter. Furthermore, most of the 500 HR professionals surveyed by the report said social media content monitoring in the workplace was inevitable, and was no more objectionable than the way advertisers and retailers use customer data and track online and social media activity to tailor shopping experiences.

According to this somewhat frightening, Minority Report-style logic, employers can utilize a worker’s personal data to measure and anticipate performance and retention issues. For example, disguised as a process aimed at your own good, companies will be able to reduce the number of your sick days by the real-time monitoring of your health. This should make you think twice before sharing data from your fitness app about how much (or how little) exercise you’re getting of late.

The HR community is now buzzing with the possibilities that ‘consensual social media monitoring’ provides. They’re working on developing measures to build trust with employees regarding this process while instituting the benchmarks for the data analysis process. Obviously, there must be clear rules about how data is acquired, used, and shared.

There are, of course, those who object to this trend, saying that such monitoring would inhibit employee interactions on social media channels, and could therefore defeat the whole purpose.

What’s more, agreeing to such monitoring could actually reduce one’s job security as employers misinterpret their findings regarding an employee’s personal life. Certain preset ideals or prejudices that are held by a company’s management regarding an employee’s personal choices may actually have no bearing on their performance at work.

Imagine the ridiculous situation where, in words of a well-meaning but misplaced HR specialist, you are expected to “adhere to a standard of ensuring that your personal life does not conflict with company policies, and that your actions—even in your personal life—reinforce your engagement with business objectives.”

It all sounds a bit too creepy, and a wide ranging discussion is required regarding what to do with the realities of technology in the work place.

For now, it seems this is just another byproduct of the over-exposure of our personal and professional lives in the digital age. If you put the information about yourself out there, then it’s difficult to complain that someone is using it to analyze your character and your potential as an employee. Live with it, or delete it.