Before getting into this week’s topic, I’ll be speaking on how good employee selection/promotion processes can help you to optimize the workplace in Long Beach, California on November 13th.  For more information, click here.

Anyone who works in or for a call center knows that just about every work behavior of a call center (or collections) employee is monitored.  Any type of monitoring that employees are aware of has two effects:  Anti-social behavior (theft) is reduced and pro-social behaviors that are being monitored will increase (shorter handle times, fewer variances from scripts, etc.).  Monitoring effects are not just present in entry level jobs. This phenomena was also observed in major league baseball umpires when electronic monitoring of the strike zone was implemented in certain ball parks.  The umpires in the monitored parks were shown to be more accurate than those in the parks that were not monitored.

Of course, any management initiative like this is going to have some unintended consequences.  I know, that term is normally considered a bad sign.  But, some research on restaurant workers seems to show that some of these unintended consequences may be good ones.

As you may have observed, most restaurants use computers to track all of the food servers’ work related activities, including giving away free food and keeping track of how much money should be in the till.  Not surprisingly, monitoring these things reduces shrinkage and theft (by 22% in the study).  However, what was also found was that revenue increased by 7%.  Some of that might have been from fewer meals given away, but there is probably something more to it.

When discussing his study, Dr. Pierce hypothesizes that those who were likely to steal can only make up this revenue through tips.  Servers get larger tips when they upsell, so by monitoring theft, servers increased revenue.  I would need a bit more data to fully accept that explanation.  For instance, perhaps by knowing their sales were being monitored, the servers did more upselling (something I’m guessing they are encouraged to do anyway).  Either way (or by way of another explanation), one behavior was being overtly measured (theft) and it was reduced, but this led to other positive behaviors increasing.  Whether the increased tips for the staff made up for the negative feelings about being monitored was not addressed it the study.

Let’s face it–no one likes to be watched over.  We take it personally because the message we hear is, “I don’t trust you to be honest, work hard, etc.”  Yes, monitoring seems to be effective.  So, how does management sell it to employees while not cratering employee engagement?  It is a tricky business, but here are a couple of thoughts:

  • In regulated environments, there is always a legal reason to do so.  Monitoring of e-mails/texts can demonstrate compliance.  Note that this may push some sensitive communications to the phone.
  • Incentivise the positive behaviors that are measured by the monitoring.  This will move the focus away from the “gotchya” aspect of the program to the rewarding of positive behaviors.  The downside?  This will change your culture to a transactional one.  Once you start rewarding some behaviors in this way, get ready to do it for others.

I have always believed that theft is more of a culture issue (“I’m being treated poorly, so they owe me this.”) than a selection one (smart thieves can generally outwit integrity tests).  Implementing a monitoring system will change your bottom line and culture, for better or for worse.  Dr. Pierce’s research shows that maybe you will get some benefits you did not expect.  But, watch out for all of the unintended consequences.

What are your thoughts on employee monitoring?

For more information on employee engagement and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or