Electronic surveillance ‘demoralising’, say workers in financial services

Employees fear keyboard clicks and computer activity being monitored remotely, particularly when working from home

FSU survey reports high levels of concern among employees about how employers are using surveillance and the data collected. Photograph: Agency Stock

Financial services workers say electronic surveillance of their work habits by managers are “demoralising, stressful and indicating a lack of trust by employers”, their union will tell an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday.

Representatives of the Financial Services Union (FSU) will give evidence at the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee on Wednesday on employee experience of technological surveillance, where they will present the results of an extensive survey among members by researchers at the University of Limerick.

The survey reported high levels of concern among employees about how employers are using surveillance and the data collected. More than nine in 10 workers (91 per cent) said they were concerned, with nearly 40 per cent very concerned.

“Survey respondents overall held negative views about surveillance,” the researchers’ report said. “They believed surveillance had negative implications for their morale, stress levels, level of privacy, their sense of control, and level of trust in their employer.


“Survey respondents were much more likely to view surveillance as being negatively linked to employee productivity. A much higher proportion of respondents held negative rather than positive views in regard to technology’s ability to accurately capture their performance,” it said.

An accompanying series of interviews with financial services workers underlined the negative responses to the practice. “It’s not moral to monitor our clicks on a computer. If you have an issue with my job, talk to me, don’t spy on me,” one respondent said.

Another added: “My concern is that I do not know if my employer is using surveillance systems to monitor me and I should know that.”

Employees in some areas reported a high degree of monitoring.

One worker spoke about a new phone system being introduced requiring employees to log in first thing in the morning. “All your calls go through it... all your breaks, lunch, your comfort breaks go through it... this is a whole monitoring phone system that give the stats on what time I arrived, logged in, what time I was absent from my desk, what time I logged out, how many calls I took, how many emails came in and how many I answered,” they said.

Another said: “Your little icon goes from active to away, and you feel someone is watching [if working from home] but if you’re in the office, you don’t mind.”

The FSU will call on employers to engage with unions to deal with employees’ fears about surveillance, suggesting that surveillance functions on workers’ devices should be introduced only with union and employees’ agreement.

The union will also call for the Government to consider legislation to govern the area.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times