14 Sneaky Ways Your Boss Is Spying on You

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Illustration of a man with a moustache hiding behind a plant and spying on a male employee in the office

Do you think your boss is spying on you? Well, duh? Do you know how many employers snoop on their employees? You would be surprised to find out that most companies regularly track their employees. With the latest technological advancements and wave of digital tools at offices’ disposal, the modern-day workplace has metastasised into East Berlin. You don’t believe it?

According to a 2019 study for digital transformation firm Alfresco, most employers monitor their staff’s digital behaviour, track their emails, peruse their web browser history and read through communication channels that were provided by the business. Even if you don’t think you’re being spied on, there’s always at least one sign that you’re be watching by Big Brother. It makes you probably wish you read your employees’ rights handbook on your first day!

We’ve compiled a list of 14 ways your boss is spying on you. Who knows? It may encourage you to think twice before checking Facebook every 15 minutes or playing another game of Flappy Bird!

1. Timing your breaks

Are you working hard or hardly working?

Whether it’s talking around the water cooler or spending time in the toilet catching up on Crime and Punishment, the time away from your desk adds up. And if you think your boss isn’t noticing because they haven’t said anything, then think again.

Many employers time their employees’ breaks, and they aren’t using a stopwatch to do it. There are plenty of desktop applications they can use to get an accurate reading of your breaks!

2. Timing your email responses

You just received an email from your boss. Instead of replying instantly, you finish what you’re doing and then respond half an hour later.

Believe it or not, the length of time it takes for you to reply is being considered by many employers. Why? The reasons vary, from determining if you’re at your workstation to judging your subjective value of each task sent your way. But if this isn’t an example of a micromanaging boss, then what is?

3. Checking your internet browser history

It looks like you forgot to clear your internet browser history before you left for the day. For the next little while, your managers will be going through your many visits to your ex’s Facebook account, the many different professional-wrestling websites and your obsession over Death-Clock.org.

Even if you erase your web browser’s history, your superiors can still use workplace monitoring software to find out how much time you’ve wasted on the company’s dime by participating in endless fights over politics on news websites.

4. Monitoring your productivity ebbs and flows

What is your performance level throughout the day? Do you tend to get most of your work done in the morning, or are you more productive after lunch?

Either way, employers are likely calculating how much work you get done during a workday. They may learn that you’re only clocking in about three real hours of work during an eight-hour shift.

5. Finding out what shared documents you opened

Many offices have embraced cloud computing, allowing workers to access shared documents in the workplace or remotely.

Some bosses, though, may become paranoid that you’re opening certain pages and perhaps sharing them with a foreign adversary. Whatever the case, don’t be too surprised when your supervisor casually mentions that you opened a specific document.

Great! Now you’re going to be paranoid throughout your entire day, week or month!

6. Snapping monitor screenshots

For employers who don’t trust their staff, there’s a treasure trove of workplace monitoring tools to help snoop on employees. Many applications take screenshots of workers’ screens, produce video recordings and even offer live video feeds. Sure, it’s their equipment, but this endangers and violates people’s privacy.

This is a digital development from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Karen from HR and Al from accounting are watching!

7. Using keyloggers

Here’s a creepy and sneaky method of monitoring you: keylogging.

Keylogging programs record each letter you type on a keyboard. While some software solutions are benign and will only look out for nefarious and questionable keystrokes, others can develop a keystroke database that can be used by the company.

Imagine right now that your employer knows every single word you’ve ever typed on your computer. Doesn’t that send a tingle up and down your spine right now? You can feel the goose pimples on your skin!

8. Accessing desktop applications

It would be odd to discover that your boss knows all about your usage of the diverse array of desktop applications.

The perpetrator is aware of the notes you made and can even follow any calendar insertions in real-time. Your boss might be willing to find the location of out-of-office scheduled events you may be attending. This is beyond creepy, and it should give you pause about using any of the resources available at the office.

9. Determining Slack participation

The workplace has dramatically changed in recent times due to the public health crisis the world endured. This means more people are working from home either permanently or on a part-time basis.

Offices are adapting by taking advantage of various project management tools such as Slack and Google Hangouts. But did you know that your senior vice president may be trying to determine how much and how well you participate?

Whether it’s a Monday morning meeting or a call-to-action on a Wednesday afternoon, the powers at work use these platforms as a gauge of how well you do your job. Put simply: if the boss says, ‘Let me know if you agree with this decision’, then you better respond ASAP!

10. Tracking the location of your work phone

Are you using a smartphone that was provided to you by your employer? If so, watch out!

Many businesses install tracking location features that function as GPS tools. The idea behind this is to ensure that you’re working or in transit to your destination. Your employer doesn’t want to find out that you’re hanging out with your spouse at Starbucks for two hours.

If you value your privacy, you might want to utilise your smartphone.

11. Calculating how long you’re at your desk

Are you someone who cannot be chained to their desk for eight consecutive hours? Well, for some offices, that is too bad! You must be confined to your soulless cubicle at all times; otherwise, you’re a hooligan who’s wasting the company time by committing the cardinal sin of going to the bathroom!

Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but large offices do calculate the length of time you’re at your desk to find out whether you’re working or dawdling around the office to hang out with your colleagues.

12. Finding out what clients matter the most

This is a bit trickier for senior management, but they can incorporate unique measures as they monitor your interactions with clients. The purpose behind watching your meetings with others is so they can judge their importance.

This matters because if/when you’re given the pink slip, the company can pass the important clients to top-notch employees. In a way, if you feel like your communications with your customers are being given some extra attention, it could be a sign of pending termination.

13. Reading instant messages

Are you using the chat feature on Zoom or Skype? If so, be careful of what you write, because your boss may be reading these communications.

Officers may install third-party applications to read the content on these types of apps. You may think that this breaches your privacy, but employers could justify their spying with the argument that the instant messaging services are for company-related conversations.

14. Browsing your social media accounts

How active are you on social media? Better yet: have you modified your account settings to ‘private’?

Some employers would go as far as browsing your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat profiles for many different reasons. But while this is not technically an invasion of privacy, if you want to prevent your boss from checking in on you within the social media ecosystem, you might want to alter your privacy settings. Or you might want to clean up your social networks and make them more professional.

Companies will come up with a myriad of excuses to defend their odious behaviour. Whether it’s to improve work performance or enhance productivity, you have to ask:  so much for privacy, huh?

This should be a warning sign of not to vent your frustrations, air your grievances or insult your superiors in any way on your computer, because they could be discovered. All your digital exploits will eventually be found out one way or another. Even your offline escapades – extra break time or water cooler chats – could be uncovered through a modicum of heightened attention and awareness.

What’s next? Implanted chips?

Do you think employers have every right to monitor their employees, or do you think some things are taking it a little too far? Join the conversation down below and let us know!