Posted March 22, 2022 by Mark Perna
Surveillance sends a simple message to employees: we don’t trust you. So why are so many companies forfeiting their human connection with remote staff in favor of monitoring them? Mark’s article, “Why 78% Of Employers Are Sacrificing Employee Trust By Spying On Them,” published at Forbes.com on March 15, 2022.
Remote work has brought us so many advantages. But what has it taken away?
In two words: human connection. Two years into the remote experiment, the connection between employer and employee is eroding at an alarming rate. A recent survey by ExpressVPN examines just how much trust has faded from the workplace experience—and the findings are worrying.
According to the study, although one in three employees don’t believe their employers are actively monitoring their online activities, fully 78% of employers are, indeed, digitally surveilling their staff.
Do they like doing it? Not really—83% of employers acknowledge that employee monitoring is ethically questionable. But 73% still use stored email, calls, messages or videos to inform their decisions on performance reviews, 46% to monitor the potential formation of workers’ unions and another 46% to terminate employees.
On the employee side, 59% feel stress and anxiety about potential workplace surveillance. Forty-one percent constantly wonder if they are being watched, and 36% feel pressure to work longer hours due to surveillance. Almost half (48%) of employees would be willing to take a pay cut if it meant not being watched. More than half (54%) say they’d consider quitting if monitoring software was implemented.
Surveillance sends a simple message to employees: we don’t trust you. And in the midst of the Great Resignation, it’s a message that companies can’t afford to send.
Trust and human connection are so closely related as to be almost interchangeable, but we can distinguish between them by positioning trust as the foundation of a positive relationship and human connection as the structure that is built on that foundation. Trust is the base level; human connection is how we build on that trust to create something truly meaningful.
As much as I love the flexibility of working remotely with my team, I find it a lot harder to deepen our human connection through emails and video calls. No, it’s not impossible to connect meaningfully with others on a human level via technology. But forging and then maintaining a human connection online requires significant intention and planning.
As record numbers of workers leave their positions in search of a better fit, we can rebuild trust and human connection at work by answering three unspoken questions: Do you see me? Do you hear me? And, do I matter?
It’s easy to be invisible in a remote world. Even if you do turn your camera on for video calls, you can manipulate your surroundings, your facial expressions and how you present yourself to display an image that may not be completely accurate. Being seen, truly seen, is when someone sees beyond your happy social profile or Zoom face—and cares.
Do you see me? is really just the first part of the question. We also want to know: it is good to see me?
We say this phrase all the time: it’s good to see you! But is it? Is “good to see you” really our authentic reaction when we see our co-workers?
The next time you see your team, even if it’s just on a video call, try to really see them. See how far they’ve come, see the areas where they will grow. Try to understand where they’re coming from, the stresses they’re facing, the victories they’ve won, and the things that have made them the person they are today. Let them know that you see and recognize them, that they have value in your eyes.
And tell them, with all sincerity, that simple phrase: “It’s good to see you.”
The second thing people want to know before they’ll connect with you is whether or not you truly hear them. Oftentimes, we listen only to formulate a response. While the other person is talking, we’re already putting together a reply in our heads, just waiting for them to stop so we can have our turn. This might be an effective way to argue, but it’s not a great way to build a connection with someone.
Maybe you’re not doing that, but your listening style is passive. Your attention may be divided; you’re distracted with other tabs and tasks. But active listening is the opposite of passive hearing.
Active listeners are patient; they don’t rush in to fill silences. They’re neutral and non-judgmental, no matter what the other person reveals. They ask questions. They pay attention to nonverbal clues to gain the fullest understanding of what the other person is communicating.
And active listening isn’t confined to just the moment. Being an active listener means that later on, you take time to reflect on what the other person said. You go over it in your mind and consider not just what was said, but sometimes, what wasn’t.
Active listening requires time, energy, and attention—things that are in short supply for many of us. But that’s all the more reason why they’re so important to forging a human connection with the people we work with.
If you don’t see or hear me, clearly I don’t matter to you. That’s a given. But if you do see and hear me, what then? In what way do I matter? Am I just a box to be checked, a problem to be solved, a number? Do I, as a person, truly matter?
Of course, as managers and coworkers, our kneejerk response to this question is, of course you matter! I’m sure that any of us, given that question, would automatically respond with an impassioned flow of words.
But this is a question that is not often asked in words, and so it can’t be answered that way. Actions speak louder here, as in so many areas of life. Giving our coworkers our time, treating them with unfailing respect, choosing to never play the blame game, believing the best—you wouldn’t do that for a cause that didn’t matter. And they know it.
We can make a positive difference in the lives of the people we work with. We can proactively tell them they’re seen, heard and valued in this space—and the company is better because they’re part of it.
For some people we work with, we may be the only voice saying this. Our actions speak louder than any words. Let’s make it loud and clear: yes, you matter.
Sadly, the ExpressVPN study also found that 59% of employers not currently surveilling staff are likely to implement monitoring software in the future—and 21% are unlikely to inform staff if they do. Spying on your workforce is the opposite of trusting them, and companies that move in this direction may find that their people aren’t going with them.
When we connect with team members on a human level, it creates the rapport that allows us all to move forward together. Answering your coworkers’ three unspoken questions—Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter?—is the basis for productivity, innovation and a company culture that allows people to bring their best to work every day.