A computer-based monitoring system (also called an electronic monitoring system) automatically records statistics about the work of employees using computer or telecommunication equipment in their jobs. Such statistics might include number of keystrokes made, types of transactions completed, or time spent for each transaction, for example.
Although many workers have expressed a feeling of privacy invasion when they are "constantly watched" by a machine, computer-based monitoring usually does not raise issues of privacy infringement in the strict legal sense. The workplace activities that are monitored by computer are primarily inherently public activities, many of which were subject to counting or supervision in other ways before computers became available. Privacy and access questions may arise, however, related to employees’ ability to see or challenge records concerning their work.
The central workplace issues raised by monitoring are labor relations questions of fairness, dignity, autonomy, and control, and are greatly influenced by the labor-management relations climate of a given firm or industry. The effects of computer-based monitoring depend on how it is used. Allegations of "unfair" or "abusive" monitoring usually focus on questions like high or increasing quotas, inappropriate work standards or punitive use of monitoring information by supervisors.
Computer-based monitoring appears most likely to be opposed or resented by employees when they perceive that it is used unfairly or when it is imposed without their understanding or participation. Conversely, in some workplaces employees accept electronic monitoring as a tool that helps them get control of their own work and ensures that their supervisors evaluate them on the basis of fair criteria.
An additional issue is the possibility that monitoring contributes to employee stress by creating a feeling of being watched or by creating pressure to work at high speed. There is some research on effects of computer-based monitoring, but it generally fails to separate the effects of monitoring from those of job design, equipment design, lighting, workload, machine pacing, and other potentially stressful aspects of work in offices where computerized equipment is used.