I'll be watching you

A report on workplace monitoring
Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
17 Aug 2018
Where it’s happening and who’s affected

How widespread is workplace surveillance?

It’s clear that workplace surveillance isn’t confined to a few big companies. Over half of workers (56 per cent) think it’s likely to be taking place where they work.

Obviously they monitor you, everywhere does, doesn’t it?

Office-based worker, Manchester

How likely is it that workplace monitoring is taking place in your workplace?

How likely is it that workplace monitoring is taking place in your workplace?
Source: TUC/BritainThinks

When provided with a list of types of surveillance, over two-thirds thought it was likely that at least one of these was used in their workplace. 41 per cent considered it very likely that at least one type was happening where they work. 72 per cent felt that it was at least fairly likely that one form of monitoring was taking place at work.

Which groups are particularly affected?

Workplace surveillance is more common among:

  • Younger workers
  • Workers in large companies
  • Certain regions

We were also interested to see if there are any differences in the perceived prevalence of surveillance among men and women and people of different ethnicities. However, we found that there’s:

  • Only a slight difference between the percentage of men and women who think monitoring is likely to be happening in their workplace (57 per cent and 55 per cent respectively)
  • A similarly slight difference between the percentage of white workers and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers who think that monitoring is likely to be happening in their workplace (56 per cent and 57 per cent respectively)

Young workers

While 56 per cent of working people think that workplace monitoring is likely to be taking place where they work, this rises to 60 per cent among 25-to-34-year olds. It’s even more common among 18-to-24-year olds. Over two-thirds (68 per cent) think it’s likely to be happening in their workplace.

This could be down to the industries that younger workers tend to work in, or it could be because younger people are more aware of surveillance at work.

How likely is it that workplace monitoring is taking place in your workplace?

How likely is it that workplace monitoring is taking place in your workplace?
Source: TUC/BritainThinks

Large companies

People working for big companies are also more likely to think that their employer is keeping an eye on them. 69 per cent of those working for a large employer (250+ employees) consider it likely that their employer uses workplace monitoring.

The figure remains high among those working for medium sized employers (51-250 employees), with 65 per cent saying it’s likely their employer uses workplace monitoring.

This drops to:

  • 52 per cent among small employers (11-50 employees)
  • 41 per cent among “micro” employers (1-10 employees)

Monitoring is more common among larger businesses

Monitoring is more common among larger businesses
Source: TUC/BritainThinks

Regional disparities

There are also clear regional differences when it comes to how common workplace monitoring is.

In the West Midlands, less than half (48 per cent) of workers think that monitoring is likely to be happening in their workplace. This rises to over 60 per cent of working people in the North East and the East Midlands.

Likelihood of workplace monitoring by region

Likelihood of workplace monitoring by region
Source: TUC/BritainThinks

What are the most common types of surveillance?

The forms of surveillance that working people think are most likely to be happening in their workplace include:

While not as widely used as other forms of surveillance, some more advanced forms of surveillance are more commonly used than some might expect. 23 per cent of workers think that handheld or wearable location-tracking devices are very or fairly likely to be being used in their workplace, while 15 per cent find it fairly likely or very likely that their employers are using facial recognition software.

How commonly used are different forms of surveillance?

How commonly used are different forms of surveillance?
Source: TUC/BritainThinks

The types of surveillance that workers have experienced varies based on whether the person works in an office or a non-office job. Those in office jobs, for example, are more likely to have their emails checked, while those in non-office jobs are more likely to have worked for employers who track the location of company assets.