Why doesn't your company trust you?

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Valery Brozhinsky)

American workers often feel like someone's watching them. Beyond the daily privacy concerns that come with big tech, US workers are now even more concerned about a new big brother: their employer. 

That gut feeling isn’t too far off from the reality. According to US online google searches, "Work from home monitoring" skyrocketed a whopping 3,200% in Q1 of 2020. Even in December 2020, the average number of searches for "Work from home monitoring" was still up 1,500% compared to January 2020.

About the author

Jeffrey Belanger is Chief Human Resources Officer at Semrush 

More surveillance, less trust

The feeling of being watched has its consequences on employees. Beyond the basic human instinct factors that come with being watched, like stress and anxiety, work surveillance can seriously take a toll on an employee. According to a VICE interview, Joshua Franco, the deputy director of Amnesty Tech at Amnesty International, went as far to say, “the fear and uncertainty generated by surveillance inhibit activity more than any action by the police.” 

If that’s the case, why do so many companies insist on tracking their employees’ every move? In some instances, keeping a close eye on employees’ is warranted: Employees dealing with highly sensitive information or valuable assets absolutely need a way of holding their employees accountable. But, for the average business professional in a remote working world, are companies so concerned with lost productivity that the only way to ensure it is through active monitoring? 

No matter which way you look at it, excessive, unjustified surveillance is a telling sign of a company’s lack of trust in its employees.

Less surveillance, more collaboration

Trust between an employer and its employees is the cornerstone of a productive and healthy work environment. Trust must be placed in employees for maximum results. Have faith the job will get done even if it is virtually. Performance shows through high caliber work and that speaks more volumes than activity monitoring could ever convey.

Instead of keeping a watchful eye on employees at all times, there are alternative methods that can help employers set up their employees for success.

Establish Great Goals and find a way to monitor success of these goals

When setting goals for teams, we often focus on the task and we end up defining “how” to accomplish the goal. A great way to give ownership of a goal to an employee and their team, is not to tell them how to complete the goal, but rather what they should be achieving in the long term. There is no need to provide instructions. You hire great people, you expect them to know how to do their job. 

When defining a “Great Goal,” your focus should be on the ultimate outcome or intended results, ideally measurable ones. If you focus on the wrong part of the goal (telling employees how to accomplish the goal) you are robbing them of the opportunity to feel empowered and be an independently minded, high performing employee. This in turn creates adverse effects on the employee-employer trust bond.   

That leads us to how best to monitor success without the big brother ideology. One proven method to monitor success of a goal or task is to complete what is sometimes referred to as an After Action Review. It’s a term that essentially refers to a simple process to diagnose what went wrong, what can be done better in the future and how can help be provided to achieve success of this specific goal. It’s a method that military organizations have used around the globe for many years to train their “employees” to learn from their mistakes when performing drills. It has another powerful application too. 

It can also be used to monitor progress of a specific goal over time if these guided questions are used in repetition between a manager or leader and their employees or teams. What worked? What didn’t work? What can we do better next time? How can we help the team achieve success? Simple. If you set great goals quarterly, and you also implement a quarterly goal review check-in discussion, it is a very easy way to monitor employee progress, productivity and successes, all without monitoring software. What you get in the end is a better result with a more trust-building and employee friendly process. 

Strive for transparency where applicable

Transparency is another powerful method for setting expectations with employees and teams in terms of performance standards. Communicating these performance expectations are the most effective way to ensure that everyone in your organization has what they need to achieve and grow in their roles. The openness of this communication creates a “safe space” and is empowering for employees because they know that everyone is held to this same standard, equally. 

Employees want to feel connected to what is happening across an organization at all levels. Research has proven that when an employee feels connected, they are better engaged in what they are doing and are more committed to the success of the team and the company. Matthew Lieberman, a social cognitive neuroscience author of Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, advocates that humans are motivated by social connection and that without this connection there is often a negative impact on organizational performance. When this connection happens, and unless you have an ongoing performance issue with a specific individual, I have found that employees feel a greater sense of ownership and pride in their work, and this decreases the likelihood and need for creating a punitive work environment by having monitoring software or tools to measure productivity.   

Transparency is its own organic and more natural way to drive productivity. Connection, transparency and performance all go hand in hand. 

Promote accountability through collaboration

Actively promoting effective collaboration and providing the right tools and/or designing processes to do so, means your employees will hold each other accountable for results. No one wants nor intends to fail on purpose. When you promote collaborative team work as a core tenant of success and also have shared goals across a team, you set individuals up to be part of a working unit focused on accomplishing a single objective. Much like bees in a hive, performance becomes more instinctual and this team begins to naturally self monitor. 

This self awareness is not just to avoid failure, but to achieve the team objective and serve the greater good of the organization. When working with teams, I often tell them that the bigger the beehive, the more accountability through effective collaboration exists among the bees. Conversely, the effective collaboration of bees creates a bigger beehive. We all want the biggest beehive, so maybe we should simply focus on the collaboration of the bees! 

In the end, every company has to determine the best method to trust and also build trust in their employees, based on their own culture. As companies explore these important questions, keep in mind...no one likes to be spied on!

 Jeffrey Belanger is Chief Human Resources Officer at Semrush