Employees Behave Differently In The Presence of Surveillance Systems


In order to discover how surveillance might alter employee behavior, researchers conducted an experiment, at more than 300 restaurants in 39 states, which was designed to keep track of transactions and possible employee-level theft. Results of this new study showed there happened to be dramatic improvements in employee behavior in case they knew about surveillance. Throughout the experiment, waiters weren’t likely involved in unethical practices and more importantly they made more effort to improve customer experience. Zintro experts discuss whether it is possible to integrate the same strategy into other disciplines.

According to Anir Ban Paul, an expert in economic policy and international security strategy, what is observed in this new experiment is quite similar to the Hawthorne Effect, during which individuals alter their behavior when they realize they are being observed and measured. “The external stimulus does lead to behavioral change. Thus the first step is starting from the end-state; what behavioral change is desired and then calibrating different stimuli and magnitudes to get the best input-output ratio. In business terms, that would be the highest return for the capital invested. One has to be cognizant of unintended consequences. For instance, tying teacher salaries to test scores has led in some cases to increased cheating and teaching to the test,” Paul explains. “In the private marketplace, such monitoring can help in self-policing. For instance, a dieter could have an app for gadget that would automatically provide a rolling daily calorie scorecard. Knowing this may do more to restrain the dieter than would otherwise be the case.”

Andre Walton, an expert in personality assessment, was relatively skeptical about the research conclusions. “First, I do not think the issue of the monitoring reducing unethical practices contributes significantly to social psychology or behavioral economics, any more than employee’s knowledge that their web surfing practices being monitored reduces visits to adult sites. Second, there is a big leap here regarding the assumption that employees channeled their efforts; one would need to know a lot more and possibly do a lot more research before the assumption regards increased sales being related to the channeling of energy away from unethical behavior,” notes Walton. “Thirdly, I wonder how long the study ran for. Way back to the Hawthorne studies, there is sound evidence that ‘shaking up the environment’ in any way increases productivity – but only temporarily. In other words, the fact that employees were being monitored might have led directly to increased sales, but this increase may not be sustained.”

 By Idil Kan

Zintro has experts in every industry sector, across every job function, in every geographic region. Recently, some of the following topics have seen inquiry activity: