Your Boss Is Watching You. Will Bossware Change How And

  • With bossware, data from keystrokes, communication with colleagues, logins, and more are monitored by a software system accessible to managers.  
  • Workers are getting fired due to being monitored; 88% of employers terminated workers after implementing monitoring software. 
  • The employee monitoring software market is forecasted to rapidly grow and reach $4.5 billion by 2026. 

As remote and hybrid ways of working are continuing to be the norm, employers are seeking to manage their teams through monitoring software.  

While monitoring software may help enable out-of-office collaboration, such surveillance tools are sometimes implemented as a result of paranoia that workers won’t do their job without their bosses watching them.  

Workplace monitoring is not a new phenomenon, but the shift to remote working has made usage of this software much more common.  

Employee monitoring software (bossware) tracks how much employees are working, which websites they visit, where they are working, and more. With bossware, data from keystrokes, communication with colleagues, logins, and more are monitored by a software system accessible to managers.

As an example, EmailAnalytics silently tracks employees’ email activity and displays it in interactive tables and graphs. Employers can then track average email response time, top senders and recipients, and email activity by hour of the day or day of the week. 

A survey by Digital.com found that 14% of remote employees were unaware that they were being monitored. Not only that, but 60% of companies with employees who work remotely use monitoring software to track employee activity and productivity.   

The question is, just how invasive is bossware?  

The short answer: Very.

The majority of employees know that their bosses are virtually looking over their shoulders; 86% of companies using monitoring software informed their employees of the fact.  

But these monitoring products usually don’t distinguish between work-related activity and personal account credentials, bank data, or medical information, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.    

Enabled by the limited privacy protections that American law affords employees, as well as the leniency that U.S. law gives companies to dictate workers’ on-the-job activities, bossware allows companies to monitor workers’ online movements and pace of work in unprecedented detail. The data is collected by sensors and activity tracking systems into algorithmic management platforms that assess workers’ productivity and performance in order to make disciplinary decisions. 

Unfortunately, there aren’t many legal protections for employees who are being monitored. Bossware might be intrusive, but it is actually legal.

How does bossware affect workers?  

Workers are getting fired as a result of being monitored. 88% of employers terminated workers after implementing monitoring software, due to employee bad behavior or lack of productivity.  

81% of employers using monitoring software reported an increase in employee productivity after the software was implemented.  

Some experts believe the growing ubiquity of worker monitoring, alongside sentiments of employee distress, could imply a downward spiral in workplace culture, according to the BBC. But a degree of monitoring can actually be beneficial in managing workflows and employee morale. 

What will bossware’s impact be on the future of work?  

The employee monitoring software market is forecasted to rapidly grow and reach $4.5 billion by 2026.

Not all industries have adopted monitoring software at equal rates. Digital.com’s survey found that the use of monitoring software is most prevalent in advertising and marketing (83%), computer and information technology (77%), construction (71%), business and finance (60%), manufacturing (60%), and personal care services (52%).  

According to consulting firm Gartner, the number of medium-to-large American employers that use monitoring tools has doubled to 60% since March 2020. Brian Kropp, Gartner’s group vice-president and chief of HR research, says that figure is set to hit 70% within two years.   

“Originally, companies were concerned with everyone working from home: ‘Will they work or just sit around and watch TV?’ Tracking tools were introduced to monitor productivity,” Kropp said 

Kropp believes the next phase of hybrid work will see employers outline an ethical framework for how and when monitoring is implemented, if at all. 

How do workers feel about bossware?

According to a recent survey of 2,000 remote and hybrid US employees, 59% reported feeling stress or anxiety about their employer surveying their online activity. 

These workers were constantly wondering whether they’re being watched, feeling pressure to work longer hours and having to take fewer breaks during the day, and nearly half said surveillance was a violation of trust. 

Constant monitoring in the workplace might negatively affect employee-employer relationships, stifle worker creativity, and ultimately contribute to employee burnout.   

According to Kropp, “generally speaking, workers aren’t super excited about the idea of surveillance. But you can waylay concern by being honest and transparent about why you’re doing it, and how data is being used. It’s when the company hasn’t communicated it, and workers find out they’re being monitored second-hand, that it becomes a bigger problem.” 

Here’s how you can check if your employer is monitoring you

Most surveillance software is hidden pretty well, but you can check to see the background processes on your laptop or PC.  

If you have a Windows computer, the Alt + Ctrl + Del keys will open the Task Manager. If you click on the Processes tab, you can see exactly what’s running on your machine and google any suspicious processes. 

On a Mac, go to Utilities and open the Activity Monitor to see any tool that’s showing up as consuming CPU or RAM. A quick web search on the ones you don’t recognize might uncover monitoring software. 

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