How Companies Use Tech to Track Workers

GPS, wearables, computer monitoring software, and more give employers insight into where workers go, what they do, who they talk to, and even biometrics like stress levels. While proponents argue this leads to productivity and accountability gains, critics contend it represents an unacceptable invasion of privacy and overreach of managerial control.

Truck drivers’ compliance with hours-of-service regulations is monitored by ELDs (Electronic Logging Devices) to ensure adherence to safety protocols.

Types of Employee Tracking

Location Tracking: GPS technology embedded in company phones, vehicles, ID badges and more enables employers to monitor the real-time location and movements of on-duty employees. This allows managers to verify attendance, confirm job site visits, optimize routes and more. But constant positional surveillance strikes some as excessive micromanagement.

Computer Monitoring: Software programs allow employers to track everything happening on work devices, including browsing history, emails, chats, keystrokes, downloads and more. Some programs take random screenshots or use webcams to literally view employees at their desk. This can improve productivity but has raised privacy concerns. Computer-based activities are captured and analyzed to enhance productivity and streamline operations.

Wearable Tech: More companies are incorporating wearables to promote health and monitor employee performance. Fitness trackers encourage walking and movement, while more advanced wristbands can sense emotion and stress levels via heart rate and skin conduction. Employers argue this allows supportive intervention, but cortisol tracking has struck some as too personally invasive.

Sociometric Solutions: Advanced monitoring incorporates wearables, computer tracking and spatial analytics to map how people move around offices and interact with coworkers and technology. The goal is optimizing communication and collaboration for maximum workplace productivity. However, collecting data on who talks to whom and for how long can feel uncomfortably intrusive for employees under the microscope.

Quantified Employee Debates

Proponent Rationales

  • Increased productivity: Detailed worker analytics shine a light on areas of waste and distraction. Monitoring enables targeted interventions to improve output.
  • Protecting assets: Tracking company vehicles and devices ensures employees utilize them properly for business. Location data provides accountability.
  • Promoting health: Wearables encourage physical activity and can alert management to worrisome stress signals, enabling early action.

Critic Perspectives

  • Privacy violations: Critics argue persistent location tracking, computer monitoring and wearables that can sense moods and conversations cross reasonable boundaries. They view them as intrusions into workers’ personal lives.
  • Added workplace stress: The pressure to have your productivity and interactions quantified, analyzed and assessed can negatively impact employee morale, critics argue. This also ties to privacy concerns.
  • No proven gains: Despite claims that surveillance leads to productivity jumps, studies demonstrating clear benefits from quantified employee programs remain sparse, leaving the rationale open to debate.

Legal Considerations

  • Notice and consent: In many jurisdictions, employees must legally consent to data collection. This requires clear communication of monitoring policies, not just buried fine print. Ethics dictate transparency as well.
  • Protected class data: Biometric data can indicate protected characteristics like health conditions or emotional states. Legally these require higher standards for collection, storage and use to prevent discrimination.
  • Labor advocacy: Unions and workers rights groups actively advocate against intrusive tracking they see as disempowering. More legislation protecting employee privacy is likely forthcoming due to these efforts.


Employee surveillance technology continues advancing at a rapid rate while debates around its appropriate use lag behind. Finding the right balance between extracting more value from workers and preserving professional work environments built on trust and mutual respect remains elusive. Companies aiming to embrace quantified employee programs must carefully weigh both the benefits and risks, legally and ethically. Meanwhile, workers feeling uncomfortable with constant, all-encompassing monitoring have grounds to push back through internal advocacy or labor regulations. The future of desirable and sustainable workplaces likely lies somewhere between a complete absence of oversight and the panopticon-like environments more invasive tracking technologies enable.