There is a slowly developing sea change in the way that we work. Employees are increasingly demanding a freedom in how they work, be that the hours they work or the location of their work. The feeling is that getting the work done is the most important thing, and individuals are often best placed to manage that workload, without any input from their manager.
That this movement is far from ubiquitous is in large part down to the simple fact that for many managers, relinquishing control is not something they're very comfortable doing. Now the humble manager may think that IT can provide a nice way around that. Face to face they can tell their team that they can manage their own workload and have that professional freedom. In the background however they can employ digital surveillance to check up on what they're doing and when they're doing it.
Newresearchsuggests that doing this could backfire quite spectacularly. The researchers wanted to test how employees responded to being given freedom at work. In their first experiment they found that when employees were given freedom at work, they not only did their defined jobs, but also contributed a high number of extra work for the organisation.
A second experiment looked at how digital surveillance impacts upon self-management. Whereas the first experiment was looking out for employees that did extra work, the second was looking specifically for counter-productive work behaviour. In other words work that undermined the organisation.
The results should provide a stern warning to managers tempted to snoop on their team. Firstly it should be said that the mere act of supervision itself led to a higher instance of counter-productive behaviour but when people are monitored when supposedly free, it really goes downhill fast. When there was a distinction between being told on one hand that you were responsible for managing your own behaviour, whilst on the other the manager was still monitoring what you did, disruptive behaviour rocketed.
The researchers believed this was primarily because employees believe that a freedom that they've earnt has been taken away, and they therefore try and recover autonomy through other means, even if that means their employer suffers.
The moral of the story appears clear. If you say you're giving people freedom over how they work, make sure you practice what you preach.