The list of corporate firms cracking down on office attendance is getting longer, as consulting firm EY reportedly starts using turnstile data to track employees’ office working days.
Anonymised statistics are being used in parts of the business to increase compliance of hybrid working guidelines and to attempt to boost productivity.
Concerns have been raised that office attendance is a factor in career progression. In fact, more than 80% of company bosses surveyed by KPMG in October said they were likely to reward employees who came in regularly with better assignments, pay rises or promotions.
Data from 2022 estimates that the number of large firms monitoring workers has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic.
As an Orwellian order invades the corporate world, we look at other firms who have employed Big Brother- style surveillance measures to monitor their workforce.
Last week, Amazon was fined $35 million by France due to invasive technology that was tracking employee performance and collecting data in violation of GDPR practices. According to France’s National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL), Amazon requires workers to justify every interruption – even those as short as a minute. Across the Atlantic, US Amazon workers have complained of similar surveillance issues, including that Amazon keeps cameras – monitored by managers and AI – trained on them at all times.
Other reports have also detailed that the ecommerce giant uses technology, such as monitoring software, to automatically fire delivery drivers in the US if they don’t meet speed and efficiency requirements. A heat map has also been used to assess where workers at the Amazon-owned Whole Foods might be likely to unionise.
The investment bank was criticised by HR experts and privacy campaigners after the bank installed employee monitoring software in its London headquarters back in 2020. The software is designed to monitor workers’ activity on their computers, and even admonishes staff in daily updates to determine if they have been active enough – or ‘in the zone’. The system tells staff to avoid breaks, as it monitors their productivity in real time, and records activities such as toilet visits as ‘unaccounted activity’. A whistle-blower told City AM, “the stress this is causing is beyond belief and it shows an utter disregard for employee wellbeing.”
The investment bank reportedly installed a system known as Workplace Activity Data Utility (WADU), which is equipped with powerful surveillance techniques that enable managers to track everything from ID badge swipes to time spent on Zoom calls. Like with EY, JPMorgan took this measure to encourage employees to return to the office at least three times a week.
Although the number of days in the office has become standard for the industry, the use of surveillance software reportedly made employees paranoid about their office attendance, calls, calendars, and more. One worker even described installing a ‘mouse jiggler’ to evade corrective action.
The iPhone maker reviews badge records to track attendance at its corporate offices to crack down on workers who ignore the back-to-work mandate of coming in three days a week. Ian Goodfellow, who worked as Apple’s Director of Machine Learning, abruptly resigned in May 2023 in response to the company’s office return call. Similarly, in August 2022, more than 1,200 employees signed a petition denouncing the company’s return-to-office order, which was implemented on Labour Day.
In consultation with employee groups, the US banking firm started monitoring and reporting on the number of days its 9,000 London staff spends in the office. Attendance data is then compared against an employee’s role designation. Those with consistently irregular attendance are reportedly at risk of losing their bonuses or even being terminated.
Why employee monitoring is doomed to backfire
Colloquially referred to as ‘tattleware’ or ‘bossware’, employee monitoring can break down an employer’s relationship of trust and engagement with their employees. Whether employees are aware or not that they are being tracked, employee monitoring is considered a tech-savvy way of micromanaging.
Based on a survey by the business intelligence company Morning Consult, more than half of tech workers would leave their jobs if their employer insisted on recording them via audio or video or using facial recognition to track productivity.
Not only can monitoring create resentment and even push workers to find ways to circumvent the rules, but it can also have legal ramifications. Amazon was fined for violating GDPR laws in France and in the US the Electronic Communications Privacy Act protects workers against invasions of privacy.
The hybrid working style is not just a symptom of the pandemic – it’s part of a larger trend that prioritises employee wellbeing. The companies that don’t adjust to the times risk workforces with lower morale and company loyalty.