High Tech Surveillance

Topics: Panopticon, Surveillance, Privacy Pages: 13 (3994 words) Published: March 7, 2011

Crossman, Alf School of Management, University of Surrey, UK e-mail: a.crossman@surrey.ac.uk

Lee-Kelley, Liz School of Management, University of Surrey, UK e-mail: l.lee-kelley@surrey.ac.uk

Abstract This paper presents a conceptual discussion on the growing management practice of introducing surveillance technologies into the workplace. It considers the growth of surveillance in broader society (and the growing enthusiasm for watching the behaviour of others as entertainment) and relates this to the psychological contract. The paper invites debate on the impact of overt and covert surveillance policies and practices on the psychological contract, in particular on the possible violation of trust assumptions between workers and employers. It concludes by suggesting that HRM has a definite role to play in balancing control and cooperation. Keywords: Employee commitment, control, psychological contract, surveillance.

Introduction The Internet and other communication technologies build cyber-bridges across (and between) nations, cultures, communities and businesses. Verbal and visual images of world events such as the 11th September, 2001 bombings in the US (which for many is seen as a watershed and after which life may never be quite the same again), the tidal wave of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the more recent Madrid bombing in March 2004 were communicated across the world in a matter of minutes. Likewise, it has a darker side when terrorists and other miscreants determined on undesirable or coercive behaviour are also known to have capitalised on technology’s connectivity. In the workplace, there is an increasing, almost obsessive, fear of industrial espionage and employee betrayal. Against this backdrop of rising environmental uncertainty and turbulence, Demb and Neubauer’s (1992)

2 far-sighted suggestion of a more direct approach to governance that embraces ‘simultaneous need for control and collaboration’ (Sundaramurthy and Lewis, 2003,397) is understandable. What seems to be overlooked by organizations introducing or extending surveillance is the impact on the psychological relationship with workers. We commence with an overview of the growth in high-tech surveillance and then move to the impact of surveillance on the psychological contract. The purpose of this paper is to invite debate on the considerations which organizations should take account when introducing or extending surveillance in the workplace and strategies for managing the psychological contract.

The growth in high-tech surveillance The routine monitoring of employees has long existed in the workplace in the form of clocking on/off systems and personal searches. In some cases this surveillance extends beyond the workplace; as far back as the early 1900s Henry Ford sent his investigators to ‘check on the morals and hygiene of assembly-line workers’ (Greengard 1996, 74). In the office, clerical employees were arranged in such a way that their behaviour was easily observed by their supervisor (Plate 1). Of course the overt nature of the surveillance not only informed the workers they were being watched, but they could also watch the watcher; similar contemporary arrangements are reported by Ball and Watson (2000).

Plate 1. The typing pool at Automatic Totalizators Limited, Sydney, c1950.

Source: Totalizator History

The recent growth in monitoring of employees through electronic means, such as access to voicemail, e-mail and through CCTV prompts the conjuring up of images of the obsessive control and dominance mechanisms exemplified in by Orwell’s (1949) ‘Big Brother’ and the

3 ‘Ministry of Truth’ in Nineteen Eighty-four. In many organizations the pace and intensity of surveillance has escalated with the adoption of new technologies and their inherent monitoring and reporting capabilities and it appears that ‘as technology marches on,...
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