Professor Darden’s research focuses on the future of work and the integration of new technologies in the workplace, notes that the reality of working from home has only accelerated the adoption of work tracking tools behaviour
EEven before the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many organizations to shift to remote working, artificial intelligence (AI) systems designed to track employee behavior and productivity were seeing a significant increase in usage.
A recent report by market research firm Gartner lists employee monitoring as one of the top technology trends shaping the modern world. global workplace. According to Gartner, companies are increasingly adopting AI-based tools to analyze worker behavior the same way they deploy AI to track and understand customer behavior.
Professor Darden Roshni Raveendhran, whose research focuses on the future of work and the integration of new technologies in the workplace, notes that the reality of working from home has only accelerated the adoption of tools behavior monitoring. When the pandemic started in 2020, 30% of large employers adopted new employee tracking technologies. A year later, that number had risen to 60%.
Forced to digitally monitor employee productivity, companies are investing in sophisticated behavior tracking tools at a breathtaking rate, regardless of what employees think of these practices. As Raveendhran says, “Companies are embracing new technologies to make their processes more efficient and improve their decision-making, but they often overlook their most important stakeholder group: their employees. So people get lost in the mix.
Raveendhran’s latest research aims to shed light on the proliferation of behavior tracking technologies in the workplace and deepen our understanding of the psychological impact these technologies have on employees. In a recent article, “Humans Judge, Algorithms Nudge: The Psychology of Behavior Tracking Acceptance,” published in the academic journal Organizational Behavior & Human Decision Processes, Raveendhran and his collaborator Nathanael J. Fast of the Marshall School of Business at the University from Southern California, examine the psychological underpinnings of employee behavior acceptance follow-up in the workplace.
The rise of behavior tracking technologies
Most of us are familiar with smartwatches, wristbands, and patches aimed at the consumer market that use computer algorithms to continuously track user information and provide feedback. Popular devices like Fitbit, for example, can track blood pressure, exercise, and calorie intake, helping users improve their health.
Increasingly, organizations are trying to leverage various behavior tracking tools, aimed at industrial, enterprise, and institutional markets, to motivate employees and monitor their performance and productivity. Thanks to new technologies such as geolocation, keylogging, screenshots, video recording and access to webcams installed on remote PCs, employers can now capture terabytes of employee data. Cloud computing allows this data to be stored online, where it can be easily accessed and reviewed by employers.
Widely adopted enterprise apps such as Slack, Zoom, and Google Drive provide employers with detailed information about how employees are working. Microsoft Office 365, for example, has a “productivity score” feature, which allows employers to track employee behaviors across 73 metrics, including whether they turn on their cameras during meetings and how often they contribute to shared documents and group discussions.
Changing attitudes towards behavior tracking
Historically, workers have been opposed to tracking and surveillance, expressing concerns that a pervasive Big Brother-style level of surveillance can lead to a loss of confidence and motivation. But recent research shows that people are increasingly accepting technological tracking of behavior at work. According to Gartner, only 10% of employees surveyed in 2015 were willing to allow their employer to track their personal data. In 2018, that number rose to 30% and jumped to 50% if employers were transparent about the purpose of the tracking.5
Intrigued by these trends, Raveendhran and his collaborator Fast set out to examine how fully automated technological tracking differs from tracking involving some form of human involvement.
The study found that people are more willing to accept behavior tracking at work when it is done solely by technology, i.e. computer algorithms, rather than by humans. What motivates this acceptance? “When people are tracked only by technology,” says Raveendhran, “they are less concerned about potential negative judgment, which increases their subjective sense of empowerment.”
The findings of Raveendhran’s study have important implications for both employees and employers. As organizations increasingly use technology to monitor employees, to do so effectively, they might consider fully automating tracking, Raveendhran says.
“If the purpose of tracking is to motivate people to behave in certain ways,” says Raveendhran, “our research suggests that if we eliminate human involvement, we can make tracking an informational experience rather than a The key question business leaders should be asking themselves is, “How can I use these new behavior tracking technologies to improve my employees’ informational outcomes?” rather than “How can I use these tracking technologies to continue to further monitor my employees?
Raveendhran’s research has broad implications. This demonstrates that it is essential to be aware of how employees react not only to behavior tracking, but also to other AI technologies that organizations are rushing to adopt.
“If we don’t think about what happens to people when they interact with these technologies,” says Raveendhran, “we’re going to face serious challenges at the intersection of people and technology, including challenges around the Data Privacy and Ethical Use of Data.”
As companies increase their investments in AI-based systems, it is more critical than ever to understand the psychological factors that influence people’s attitudes and behaviors towards these technologies. Only then, says Raveendhran, can we glean practical insights into how to effectively harness new technologies to create positive impact.
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[This article has been reproduced with permission from University Of Virginia’s Darden School Of Business. This piece originally appeared on Darden Ideas to Action.]