Team Management

5 Creative Ways That Employees Cheat Surveillance Methods - And How You Can Avoid Them

September 22, 2022

You may think that ‘teenage rebellion’ was just a phase in our lives that disappeared as we grew older; we beg to differ. All of us have a little rebellion inside that surfaces whenever we’re pushed to our limits or beyond our comfort zones.

Studies reveal that the reason why teenagers become rebellious is that they crave control and strive for acceptance while their brains are developing. As we mature, these traits don’t completely disappear, but are suppressed. So, whenever we’re triggered, that need for control, acceptance or trust reemerges. And that is exactly the reaction that managers using surveillance tools are triggering these days. 

A research study by Harvard Business Review found out that by April 2020, the search for tools to monitor remote employees grew by a staggering 1705%. The sale of such tools was also unprecedented during this period as businesses were being forced to offer work-from-home to their employees.

By using employee surveillance tools, managers invade their teams’ privacy, question their work integrity, and eventually push them into taking desperate measures like cheating. 

Recommended for reading: How Managers are Battling Employee Backlash Over Monitoring

On the contrary, it was found that those who weren’t monitored showed a sense of ownership towards their work, took lesser breaks, and performed better altogether.  

It’s a vicious cycle – you impose surveillance on your team; they rebel by cheating; you then impose surveillance on them because they’re cheating; they rebel by cheating more…

The result? Your team’s productivity goes out the window. You’ll be surprised (and perhaps impressed) to see how some employees  cheat the surveillance systems, without you even knowing about it. 

Here are a few examples. 

#1. The Timesheetscam (it should be a word for how common it is)

Submitting timesheets is one of the most common ways for managers to gauge the number of hours an employee has worked throughout the day, and that’s perfectly fine. However, things get messy when you throw surveillance tools into the mix. This triggers the previously mentioned rebellious nature which results in employees falsifying timesheets.

Employees often round up hours to add those additional 10 or 15 minutes to the clock. In an 8-hour day, this little trick shaves off an hour and twenty minutes where employees could slack without repercussion. 

#2. Mice Have Always Been the Worst of Pests

Managers often track employees’ work activity through mouse movements. Well, employees are two steps ahead of this. There are actually tools available that move your mouse automatically to keep your cursor active, thereby keeping the status of your Skype or CMS online. 

Another (more manual) hack some employees use is attaching the mouse to a battery-operated toy. This keeps the cursor moving, making the surveillance software believe that the employee is actually sitting behind the desk working all day long.

And you’ll never find out unless you opt for a time tracker with more realistic and practical solutions (or secretly install a hidden camera in their home office).

#3. A Second Monitor to Avoid Monitor-Monitoring

Some surveillance tools allow managers to track their teams’ monitors and their activity. First, this is an invasion of privacy, and second, employees already have a way out of this: a dual monitor setup. 

Dual monitors allow employees to open work-related browser tabs and apps on one desktop, while the other one is used to play Dota 2 or watch that new episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

The thing with surveillance tools is that they cannot track activity against two monitors, which means employees sure will be behind the desk, but that will not benefit the productivity of your team in any way. 

Recommended for reading: Remote Working Culture: Productivity Killer or Enhancer?

#4. Dogging Screenshots!

Another very common method managers use to track their employees is through screenshots, but employees are clever enough to dodge those as well. 

Managers use surveillance tools to capture screenshots of the employees’ computer which they later use as proof about wasting time during work hours. But the problem is, most surveillance tools are based on algorithms that have a pattern for screenshots. 

Employees take a few days to identify this pattern and then pace their unproductive behavior accordingly. As soon as the surveillance tool is about to take a screenshot, employees switch to that tab or the PowerPoint they were supposed to deliver the next day. There isn’t much that managers can do about it. 

#5. Tampering With the Code (Of Conduct)

Software is basically a tool based upon multiple lines of codes. It does what you program it to do, and employees manipulate it to not monitor their activity. Some employees also go to the extent of disabling the surveillance tool on their desktop entirely, causing it to malfunction. 

“But can an employee access the software backend?” you might ask.

Well, they don’t really have to. When you install the surveillance tool on their computer, it sets up log files on the computer. Something as simple as deleting a single log file can lead to a malfunction, impeding it from spying on employees. 

The Real Question: Why Do Employees Cheat Surveillance Tools?

It’s true that some employees do resort to methods of tricking surveillance tools, but have you ever wondered why? Employees aren’t inherently corrupt , nor do they like cheating. But you have to admit, it can’t feel good to be spied upon.

Deploying excessive surveillance methods on employees sends the message that:

  • You don’t trust them with critical tasks 
  • You believe they are unproductive and waste time
  • You believe that they will cheat if you don’t spy on them

What employees hear:

  • I am not capable enough to get the job done
  • I am unreliable 
  • I am not trusted

Remember what we said in the beginning about teenage rebellions? They crave control and strive for acceptance. When thoughts like this start creeping into an employee’s mind, they trigger that same rebellious nature we talked about earlier in the blog.

That’s why employees turn towards cheating: as a way to rebel against their managers. 

An environment where managers spy and employees rebel is never healthy, and certainly not productive. So, even if you have something new that would help you catch workers red handed, your employees will find a way around that new tactic as well.

Studies reveal that approximately 78% of managers are using some sort of surveillance software today to keep an eye on their employees, while at the same time proving that over 80% of the employers believe it is unethical.

Then Why Are Businesses Implementing Them?

Okay, so employers are not in the wrong here either. They believe there should be some sort of monitoring solution to analyze productivity levels of employees. We understand that this is important, but there are other, much better ways to address this concern. 

There is no concrete evidence which shows that surveillance tactics are successful in making employees more productive.

What if we told you that you don’t have to resort to tools like Big Brother to gauge employee productivity? 

A Light, Non-Invasive Approach to a Productive Workplace 

There is a fine line between monitoring employees and spying on them

To avoid reaching a point where employees feel the need to cheat, we recommend a change in the approach in how you measure your team’s performance:

Focus on the time spent on tasks rather than the time wasted

As a manager, your sole focus should be on gaining insights like the amount of time an employee took to finish a certain task, and comparing that time against the estimated time or the time taken by other employees. 

So, the next time you’re assigning a similar project, you could allocate it to someone who takes lesser time to deliver. Allocating tasks based on an employee’s performance levels will enable you to improve productivity altogether.

Understand team capacity to allocate work instead of causing undue burdens

No two people are alike. One employee may be able to churn more work in the same time taken by another employee to submit half the tasks. Impractical amounts of work with unrealistic delivery schedules will only lead to more unproductive hours.

That’s why it’s important to  be aware of each employee’s capacity so you can assign projects efficiently. This can also help you streamline billing against working hours. 

Trust your team members rather than making them feel unreliable

Trusting employees with work can go a long way towards increasing team productivity.

If you opt to spy on your employees, some of them will eventually rebel, and find ways to cheat. But when an employee is held accountable for a project by being trusted with important tasks, it triggers a sense of ownership; the employee feels valuable and is more likely to deliver their best.

Develop KPIs that matter instead of sticking to the traditional “get this done!” approach 

The concept behind this is to be a leader, not a boss. 

You want to create a sense of healthy competition among employees rather than pushing them to deliver a task using unnecessary surveillance tactics. So, instead of just telling them to submit that file, you develop KPIs like:

  • Punctuality
  • Number of projects completed
  • Most bugs fixed or problems resolved

This will provide your team with reason to work smarter. To make things even more lucrative for your team, you can offer rewards upon meeting the success metrics of each KPI. It will motivate employees to work harder, keeping your team’s productivity levels high. 

How Does This Approach Work? 

Well, it’s easy. timegram.

Our time tracking and resource planning tool shuns surveillance tactics and focuses on the fine line where managers get to monitor employee productivity and team members never feel the need to cheat. Some of timegram’s core features include:

  • A trust-based, privacy-first model with zero-surveillance policy 
  • A holistic dashboard for task allocation
  • Converting billable hours into invoices within seconds 

You can check out the complete list of features here

Want to opt for an ethical time tracking and monitoring tool that doesn’t turn Powerpuffs into Mojo Jojos? Sign up now!  

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Umer Asad

About the author

Umer is a creative geek, a soccer enthusiast, and a self-proclaimed standup comedian. He brings over half a decade of writing experience to the table with a knack for the SaaS niche. In his free time, you’ll find him in queues at fast food chains, playing PUBG, or doing adventure traveling.

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