Openness works with surveillance

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




(2000), "Openness works with surveillance", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Openness works with surveillance

Openness works with surveillance

Keywords Surveillance, Privacy, Work

A study funded by the ESRC into the use of technological surveillance systems at work has found little evidence that employees view the systems as a threat to privacy.

The project, which is two-thirds completed and comes within the ESRC's Virtual Society? research programme, is examining the use of surveillance capacity by employers and how they define legitimate use.

A number of case studies of actual work situations are being undertaken – at a call centre, council tax office, public health laboratory, hospital maternity suite and a distributed printed operation.

The researchers identified a range of uses, from CCTV security systems to work-flow control technologies. Their initial findings make clear that whether or not a system's surveillance capacity is utilised will depend on context. According to the report, management tends to calculate the likely impact of implementation in terms of employee reaction, judging the benefits of utilisation against the costs of doing so.

Early findings suggest that surveillance capacity is most likely to be deployed where there is a perceived problem, for example, health and safety or stock wastage, and that use of surveillance capacity in the absence of an identified problem would be too "resource-hungry".

Even where some degree of surveillance is routine, for example, in call centres, the decision to use sanctions against procedural irregularities depends on judgements about their impact on the achievement of organisational goals.

The researchers found that employees tend to recognise and accept monitoring and surveillance as a routine aspect of their working lives – and some see it as a protection against unfair work distribution or accusations of dereliction. None of the respondents so far has expressed concern about surveillance systems threatening their privacy. Trade unions report few complaints from members.

Provided that such activities are open, subject to collective agreement and conducted within the law, unions recognise the mutual benefit to be derived.

Further information about the technology, work and surveillance: organisational goals, privacy and resistance project from: Professor David Mason, Department of Sociology, University of Plymouth, UK. E-mail:

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