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Privacy at Work Survey



Monitoring and surveillance of workers is not new. However, new forms of technology and working methods means that it is now easier for employers to undertake. UNISON Scotland received a growing number of complaints from members, particularly those in customer facing jobs in call centres and similar workplaces that this surveillance was becoming more invasive. UNISON Scotland utilities service groups (energy & water) therefore decided to commission a survey on this issue.


The survey involved 230 interviews with UNISON members. The survey was random but not representative of UNISON members as a whole. The sample was drawn from members in customer facing posts mostly (70%) in the private sector. Whilst the survey was commissioned by the energy and water service groups the sample included members in other service groups. Interviews were undertaken during the period October 2003 to January 2004 using email, telephone and face to face contact.

Survey Results Summary

The questions and response rates are set out in the annex.

The sample selected showed a high level of electronic monitoring by e-mail, phone and other electronic measurement. The latter mostly in contact centres using performance monitoring software. For the majority of staff this included private communications. Several respondents gave examples of calls from family members being listened into even when they were clearly of a highly personal nature. One respondent gave an example of her team manager printing e-mail from a relative describing an urgent family crisis including medical details.

The figure for hidden surveillance at 36% was particularly high. Particularly when such a practice is generally contrary to the approach set out in the Employment Practices Data Protection Code (EPDPC). The fact that employees were aware of the surveillance may indicate that the employer doesn't intend it to be hidden but has failed to clearly communicate their policy.

This may be reflected in the response on employer policies. The type of employer (generally large organisations) covered by the survey is likely to have a policy and two thirds of respondent knew one existed. However, little effort seems to have been made to explain the policy. Very few employers appear to have considered alternatives to electronic monitoring, or if they have little effort has been made to explain why they were not appropriate. Nearly three quarters of respondents felt that the employer had not justified the monitoring. This would indicate that work on impact assessments as set out in the EPDP Code has been limited.

The most worrying results from the survey came when respondents were asked what impact the monitoring had on them. 'Demeaning' was the most common response with more than half finding monitoring stressful. More than half suffered from different levels of anxiety with 17% suffering from depression. A number of staff explained that monitoring caused a loss of sleep and extended sickness absence.

On performance measurement two thirds felt that targets were unrealistic. A number of staff in call centres described ways they sought to avoid unrealistic targets by dumping or transferring customers. We asked only limited questions on this point and further work is obviously necessary.

As call centres are still reporting recruitment and retention problems the 52% of staff who have considered resigning over monitoring is a significant figure.


The key points from the survey are:

  • A high level of monitoring including private communications.
  • Where polices exist they are poorly explained and have failed to convince staff that monitoring is justified.
  • Monitoring is generally regarded as demeaning and in many cases is causing high levels of psychological distress.
  • There is a significant negative impact on recruitment and retention.

There is little evidence from this survey that employers are adopting the principles set out in the EPDP Code or that they understand the impact this level of concern from staff must be having on morale and performance.


9 February 2004

Survey Questions

1. What methods are used to monitor your work?

    1. Phone recording 67%
    2. Email monitoring 82%
    3. CCTV 23%
    4. Electronic measurement 62%

2. Does this monitoring include private communications?

Yes 55%

No 41%

Don't know 4%

3. Are you aware of any hidden surveillance used by your employer?

Yes 36%

No 64%

4. Does your employer have a policy on electronic monitoring?

Yes 58%

No 21%

Don't know 21%

5. Has this policy and the reasons for it been explained to you?

Yes 34%

No 66%

6. Has you employer considered alternatives to electronic monitoring?

Yes 12%

No 34%

Don't Know 54%

7. Do you feel that your employer has justified electronic monitoring?

Fully justified 6%

Partly justified 20%

Not at all 74%

8. How do you regard this monitoring?

No effect 16%

Oppressive 28%

Demeaning 82%

Stressful 52%

9. Has this monitoring caused you psychological distress?

None 29%

Anxiety 38%

Extreme anxiety 16%

Depression 17%

10. Where performance measures are used are the targets

Achievable 32%

Unrealistic 68%

  1. Have you considered resigning as a result of electronic monitoring?

Yes 52%

No 48%

12. Any other comments or examples to illustrate your concerns?


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Further Information


Prior to negotiations with employers branches should consult the following publications 'The Draft Code of Practice on Surveillance of Workers' by Michael Ford, published by the Institute of Employment Rights and also 'Monitoring and Surveillance a Guide to Privacy at Work' published by the Labour Research Department.


Introduction to the Data Protection Act- http://www.cf.ac.uk/infos/

TUC Surveillance at Work: Sensible Solutions - http://www.tuc.org.uk/

UNISON Bargaining on Privacy - http://www.unison.org.uk/bargaining/

Contacts list:

Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572