Psychology and Relationships

Companies use AI to monitor workers—45% of employees say it has a negative effect on their mental health

Courtneyk | E+ | Getty Images

As companies implement return-to-office plans, employers are increasingly interested in utilizing artificial intelligence, not to replace workers, but to watch them. 

Between March 2020 and June 2023, demand for employee surveillance software grew 54%, according to research from Top10VPN, a virtual private network comparison site.

And employees are noticing. Fifty-one percent say they are aware that their employer uses technology to monitor them while they are working, according to data from the American Psychological Association

Knowing they are being watched has had negative psychological effects. 

Almost one-third, 32%, of employees who know their bosses are using technology to monitor them reported their mental health as fair or poor, according to data from the APA. Only 24% of those not being monitored said the same. Almost half, 45%, of those being monitored say their workplaces have a negative effect on their mental health, versus the 29% of those not being monitored. 

81% of workers say AI monitoring makes them feel like they're being inappropriately watched

Pre-pandemic, the most common type of monitoring was badge swipes, Brian Kropp, vice president of human resources research firm Gartner Inc. told The Wall Street Journal. Now, employers are using technologies that track when workers are logging on and off, who they are communicating with and what they are saying.

One software, Traqq, will "detect and report the apps and websites a user spends more than 10 seconds on," according to its website. Another software called Time Doctor allows "ethical video screen recording" so employers can see if workers are "actually working on their task or watching a Netflix show instead," according to its site. 

Most Americans oppose this kind of tracking, according to data from the Pew Research Center. In fact, 81% of workers said that AI monitoring technology would lead them to feel like they are being inappropriately watched. 

This will undoubtedly result in strained relationships between bosses and those they manage, Leslie Hammer, a professor at Oregon Health & Science University and co-director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, told the APA

"When employees feel they are not cared for or trusted by their employers, they are likely to have lower levels of commitment to the organization and perceive lower levels of psychological safety and higher levels of stress, all negatively affecting the relationship between employees and their employers, and specifically their managers and supervisors," Hammer said. 

Some employees did see a few potentially positive outcomes to AI monitoring, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Almost half, 49%, say workplace security would improve, and 46% said inappropriate behavior in the workplace would likely decrease.

Generally, though, workers agree that there are more downsides than upsides.

"When comparing the stress, strain and burnout associated with electronic monitoring to the benefits, in most occupations, this is not warranted," Hammer told the APA. "It sends a message of distrust and creates a sense of anxiety that may in turn impact an employee's psychological health, physical health and job performance negatively."

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