Organisational
control is a practice of exerting ‘power over the people’ as it normalises
discipline. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish philosophy (1975) encapsulates how
power is unescapable and surveillance is the main method of control. Foucault’s
theory can be applied to society accepting the normalisation of employee monitoring,
which intertwines with how society today has even begun to self-surveillance themselves.
An example of this is how individuals implement their own daily rituals of
surveillance such as CCTV used in cars and fitness trackers used to monitor
daily movements, indicating surveillance being a perception of protection
rather than damaging. Although Foucault fails to reflect on how different types
of power effects society (Cordenier, 2011), the panoptic principle heightens
how monitoring is accepted because it is intrinsically part of society. Here it’s
argued that employers should develop company policies that keep a balance
between protecting the rights of employees and employers (Lee & Kleiner,
2003 page 79) as this would provide stability in the face of distorted power.

In contrast with conformity, control can be met with resistance. This can range
from low-level employee rebellion such as unproductivity to extreme conflict
such as uprising. Chory et al’s (2015) empirical study on the effects of surveillance
illustrate how employees who perceived that there was less privacy in the
workplace, had less trust in upper management as well as less commitment to
their organisation. This scepticism from employees indicates how resistance is
not an ‘epiphenomenon of surveillance but a co-development’ (Martin et al, 2009
page 216). Foucault’s panoptic principle indicates how surveillance is
generally accepted when hidden, therefore the reasoning behind resistance to
surveillance today is because it is far more transparent and consequently
privacy barriers are lowered. Introna (2000) believes the issue with monitoring
is that employers only see a partial part of the picture. As a result,
resistance to surveillance stems from concerns that employers will apply incorrect
interpretations when judging a specific image and not the holistic view.

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Personal
experience of organisational surveillance

Sophisticated software
makes it easier for organisations to monitor and control its employees as there
is now increased visibility. I personally encountered various forms of
monitoring during my work-experience, the most noticeable being ‘Skype for
Business’. This specific software used for conference calls and instant
messaging enabled my superiors to view when I was online, offline or even
‘away’ from my computer after five minutes. This undeniably increased my productivity
as I knew not to spend too long away from my computer, due to it suggesting
that I was not busy working. Increased productivity coincides with the Hawthorne
effect which acknowledges how behaviour is altered due to the awareness of
being watched and therefore surveillance from a corporate viewpoint is
strategically beneficial. Although monitoring can be linked to increased
productivity, the question is raised as to why monthly targets and effective
results are not satisfactory measures of acceptable working levels.

 

Human resource management aligns
with the strategic mission of an organisation and hence supports the
legitimisation of employee monitoring. Company scrutinising originates in the
recruitment process to assess whether potential applicants are worthy of a
position and monitoring continues to check if individuals are worth retaining.
Here, it is argued to what extent is organisational monitoring acceptable? An example
of this is school teacher Miss Ferguson who was suspended for a ‘sultry’ selfie
on Facebook (The Telegraph, 2017). Students and parents were so outraged at the
school’s decision to suspend the teacher that a petition ‘get Miss Ferguson
back’ was created. This response from students and parents confirms how
boundaries of workplace surveillance are part of a larger debate between what
is public and what is private (Dash, 2014) and how the question of what constitutes
a workplace is becoming “increasingly porous” (Rosenblat et al, 2014 page 2). Here
it is worth noting whether organisational control is used as a tool to mask the
corruption of senior management activities with a prime example being the 2015 Toshiba
accounting scandal which found $1.2 billion overstated operating profits (Carpenter,
2017).

 

A significant aspect of surveillance
is whether it breaches an individual’s moral right to privacy. Current law
encourages and even protects the use of employee monitoring and growth in technology
means there is now potential to formulate surveillance into the make-up of an
organisation.  Moreover, since
surveillance appears to be unavoidable today, it is argued that employee monitoring
is acceptable if it is wholly known to the worker. For example, employee
monitoring can be justified if there is ‘thin consent’ where employees agree to
the surveillance (Moore, 2000, page 701).  The reason employees should have the right to
consent and knowledge of monitoring is because workplace privacy is not a matter
of staff attempting to mask unscrupulous behaviour but a “genuine concern for
employees being involved in a power asymmetry relationship” (Introna, 2000 page
36).

Productivity vs wellbeing of society

 

It is clear that employee
monitoring can be linked negatively to control, resistance and power. However,
in recent years current affairs highlight how surveillance might actually be a
necessity for the safety and wellbeing of society. This is demonstrated through
cases of police shootings of young men such as UK citizen Mark Duggan killed in
2011 and US citizen Michael Brown killed in 2014. Both cases in particular
sparked heavy public outcry of police brutality with protests and riots
following the deaths. It is particularly interesting to note, that the outcry
resulted in the proper adoption of body
cameras by police departments to record police activity.  This meant that not only did suspects act
more accordingly but police were on their best behaviour as footage could be
used either against them or to protect them. This illustrates an alternative dimension
to the debate on whether employee monitoring is ethical as in this case it is a
beneficial prevention tool for the misuse of power.

Conversely, organisational control
can be negatively linked to the wellbeing of employees. For example, the
University of Wisconsin study on the effects of surveillance found that
monitored workers suffered a 12% increase in depression and 15% increase in
anxiety (Flanagan, 1994). These statistics underpin the argument that workplace
surveillance is unethical and a violation of privacy as it showcases how
organisations put the wellbeing of their workforce at risk simply to enhance
productivity. This correlates with Miller and Weckert (2000) who argue than an
employee’s right to privacy and safety is more important than work productivity
and efficiency. Alternatively, a more recent survey by Vault.com indicates that
58% of employees are not concerned about monitoring by managers (Lee &
Kleiner, 2003 page 77), which clarifies the difference in attitudes over time
and reinforces the power of conformity. However, the reality of surveillance being
normalised does not denote that it is ethical but instead raises the question
of why society is not more concerned with privacy rights.