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Half of workers think they're being monitored by bosses

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Workers worry bosses will use surveillance data to set unfair targets, micromanage them and take away autonomy

More than half of UK workers (56%) believe they are currently being monitored by their boss at work, according to research from the TUC.

Employees fear that greater workplace surveillance through technology will fuel distrust (65%) and discrimination (66%).

Workplace surveillance can take a number of different forms. These include monitoring internet use, keystrokes and through webcams, location tracking by handheld or wearable devices, recording time away from work tasks (for example timing toilet breaks), and the use of facial recognition software to assess workers’ moods.

Workers worry that this surveillance data will be used by bosses to set unfair targets, micromanage them and take away control and autonomy.

Three-quarters (74%) of workers said bosses should be banned from monitoring them outside of working hours. Yet, a third (33%) think that their activity on social media is being snooped on when they are not at work.

The least acceptable forms of surveillance were found to be the use of facial recognition software and mood monitoring (76% against), the monitoring of social media accounts outside of work (69% against), the recording of a worker’s location on wearable or handheld devices (67% against), and the monitoring of keyboard strokes (57% against).

Most respondents (70%) think workplace monitoring will become more common in the future, but just 38% say they feel able to challenge forms of surveillance they're uncomfortable with. Seventy-nine per cent say employers should be legally required to consult their workforces and reach agreements before using surveillance.

The TUC said that, while proper enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) may help, new safeguards are needed to ensure that employers respect their workers’ rights to privacy and to prevent employers using excessive or intrusive surveillance at work.

“Employers must not use tech to control and micromanage their staff. Monitoring toilet breaks, tracking every movement and snooping on staff outside of working hours creates fear and distrust. And it undermines morale,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.

“New technologies should not be used to whittle away our right to privacy, even when we’re at work. Employers should discuss and agree workplace monitoring policies with their workforces – not impose them upon them.”

The research was conducted by Britain Thinks on behalf of the TUC. It surveyed 2,100 members of the UK public between 18 and 21 May, following a series of focus groups with office- and non-office-based workers.