How to torture your employees by spying on them

Dear Boss,

We, the employees of your company, hope you will reconsider the tracking spyware you’ve installed on every computer to ensure that you can see every email we write and every website we visit. We’re curious why you started a company if you weren’t going to trust anyone to do the job you hired them to do. Ironically you taking the time to spy on us is just as work-avoidant as what you’re trying to catch us at! The Cold war is over. It’s 2016 not 1984. This isn’t wiki leaks, we’re not Edward Snowden, and you’re not in The Manchurian Candidate. The Hunt for Red October is over.


Dear Employee,

I saw you writing that letter on your computer. You’re not supposed to be writing letters at work, unless it’s on letterhead to one of our clients. I also saw you click the like button on Facebook for a video showing dogs who are scared of staircases. Watch your step.


Why your torture plan will surely backfire

Using spyware on your employees is actually a form of mental torture. It’s a modification on the panopticon, a structure developed in the 18thcentury by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham to replace physical torture in prisons. The panopticon is a structure that allows inmates (employees) of an institution to be observed by a single watchman (boss) without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The mere threat that someone could be watching you is what keeps you in your place. Benthem described the panopticon as “a mill for grinding rogues honest.”


Maybe Try This Instead?

There’s another concept called “trust” that has shown to be useful when creating successful work atmospheres. Rather than create a prisoner mentality in your employees, foster a self-leadership mentality so they feel they have the space to get their work done. If you need proof of concept look to Netflix, one of the fastest growing companies in the last ten years, who nurture an autonomous atmosphere where quality over quantity is rewarded. If that doesn’t do it for you, research has shown that little breaks in the workday actually promote productivity. At the 90-minute mark on a single task our brains tend to lose focus. Little breaks spent checking Facebook or watching a funny YouTube video — as well as anything else that doesn’t have to do with work — serves as a mental reboot.

Side note: It is understandable, for the security of your company, if you need to use blocking software and block certain websites. That’s different than spying. If you feel like you need to spy on someone, you probably made a bad hiring decision.


This post was originally featured on Equilibrialeadership.com.

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Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., MBA is an organizational psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. She is the author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” and the co-author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the ‘Me First’ Generation.”