If you can’t trust your employees, let them go.

It is highly unlikely that you will find secretaries using typewriters in any modern successful business. So why is it that companies feel that they can maintain a mindset that is equally as old as much of the technology they have long since sloughed off? While it is important to have a handle on what is going on within your company employers can do so without being overly invasive or restrictive.

I was recently speaking with someone I know that does software development for a very large company and was astounded to find that the company severely limits the access their employees have to almost all content. If employees navigate to restricted sites a network administrator is notified and promptly forwards an infraction notice to the employee’s manager. I was especially taken aback to find that software engineers, who should be relying heavily on the internet to stay abreast of technology, are limited from such standard things as accessing people’s blogs, a place that can best be likened to an incubator for cutting edge software theory. The company has recently loosened their policy a bit but it is my feeling that, with the exception of “trouble” employees, there should be no policy at all – at least not one that is visible to employees.

Many businesses will argue that with the modern outsourcing, globalization, and price war trends that they must take measures to cut costs, which to many means making sure employees constantly have their nose to the grindstone. The simple fact of the matter is that the concept of an employee that works for 100% of the day is a fallacy. Even the best of employees require some down time in order to maintain a high level of productivity. However, despite this common knowledge, statistical data supporting whip cracking employers is quite easy to find.

One article states that “for every 13.5 minutes workers spend […] the cost to employers in lost wages alone exceeds $237 million” (My Shoulder – this article actually agrees with my stance but presents the statistic nonetheless). However, what this staggering statistic fails to recognize is that for that $237 million the nation’s employers are purchasing something very important: goodwill and productivity. While there will always be those that take advantage, the majority of employees actually work hard at their job, at least in my professional experiences. The half hour or more of “unproductive” time that workers use throughout the day is more than made up for when one considers the added productivity and goodwill employers gain from having a more relaxed and content employee. There are many theories revolving around workplace motivation, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most of which point towards the conclusion that an employee that feels secure and content in their work is likely to perform at higher levels and exhibit higher overall levels of motivation than one who is not.

The bottom line is that you must protect your business, especially in this age of rampant globalization and cost cutting. If this means monitoring employee activity then so be it. However, unless there is a reason to restrict their employees companies should opt for allowing basic freedoms and curtail practices of filtering emails, restricting web surfing, and reprimanding for being late every now and then. After all, when all things are considered the added productivity that comes from a less restrictive policy will likely far outweigh the gain that companies would get from closely monitoring every action of their employees. In fact, with all that free thinking time, perhaps employees will be able to come up with a true cost savings methodology.

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Jason McDonald

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