AnnaMarie Houlis
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Employees are consistently warned that their work computers, emails and phones are monitored. That's to be expected, after all, since they're company property and should be relegated to work. Using a work computer, email or phone for anything outside of work could jeopardize one's career as many employers monitor the use of these, but how far is too far? Is your employer watching your every move?

A new HR Metrics & Analytics Summit surveyWorkplace Privacy and Protection: Is Your Employer Watching Your Every Move?, explores corporate use of employee data, metrics and analytics, as well as employee perceptions of workplace privacy and protection in 2018. The HR Metrics & Analytics Summit surveyed more than 250 global human resources leaders and employees, and the results are disconcerting for a lot of workers. The findings suggest that 80 percent of organizations use employee records and data to measure their performance, and a fair number use that information to also measure retention, reduce turnover, and enhance engagement and recruitment. But less than 40 percent of the organizations studied use employee data to better their company cultures.

Ultimately, employees deem it acceptable for their companies to monitor their workplace-related tasks, work emails and work phones. What they find unacceptable (72 percent), however, is monitoring their private social media accounts, and tracking their physical movements within the workplace and personal interactions (more than 50 percent). More specifically, 95 percent said that they want their employers to be transparent about what data is being collected and how secure that data will be — if their collected data is protected against hacking and theft. More than half would object to using "wearable" technology to track their physical movements in the workplace, and less than a third are open to wearing such technology for tracking purposes.

"As organizations collect more personal and business data about their employees, it raises a number of risks and ethical questions about data security, transparency and communication standards," Tiffany Ramirez, Content Editor, IQPC's HR Metrics & Analytics Summit, said in a statement.

While most (85 percent) companies have guidelines as to what information they collect from employees, how they store that information and how they use it, 15 percent of HR leaders don't have guidelines to protect employees' privacy.

That's largely why so many (48 percent) employees don't trust their company to protect their data — they cited reasons of mistrust in protecting data, insecure software in the workplace, incompetent IT departments, previously misplaced data (by the employer) and zero transparency regarding how their data is protected.

"Companies are collecting and analyzing unprecedented quantities of unstructured data and it has created a new outlook on the capabilities of workforce analytics," Ramirez said in the statement. "Although these capabilities have created a lot of excitement, they have also generated anxiety and debate. While the benefits of these capabilities are potentially game-changing, data privacy concerns are rising." 

The possible game-changing benefits include a better-designed workplace, retention and promotions and more favorable employee incentives — but only if the data is collected transparently and with respect for privacy. Perhaps then, far more organizations can use that employee data to better their company cultures.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.