The Downside of Electronically Monitoring Remote Employees

With the rise of remote working options, more and more organizations have felt the need to implement some sort of electronic performance monitoring system. These systems allow organizations to keep tabs on their remote employees by tracking things like time sitting at a desk, mouse movement, and what websites or applications are being using. These systems are meant to reduce deviant behavior and increase motivation. However, they may actually have the opposite effect, especially if they cause employees to feel as though they are not trusted by their leaders.


In the first study, the researchers (Thiel et al., 2023) recruited 186 online participants to participate in an experiment manipulating electronic monitoring and levels of developmental feedback (low vs. high). They then measured the relationship between the participant and that person’s leader, task performance, and the amount of deviant behavior (e.g., taking excessive breaks or putting in minimal effort). In the second study, the researchers used time-lagged data from 298 real employees and leaders to measure the same variables and test the same relationships in the real world.

In the experiment, electronic monitoring led to worse relationships between participants and their leaders, and increased deviant behavior. Interestingly, these results were not replicated in the real-world study. Across both studies, though, using monitoring to provide feedback led to better relationships between leaders and followers compared to when no feedback was given. This also reduced the relationship between monitoring and deviant behavior. In the second study, the researchers also found that the use of feedback boosted the productivity of employees.


For organizations with remote employees who may be considering electronic monitoring systems, this research provides a few key considerations:

  • Consider whether using a monitoring system is worth the consequences. This research showed preliminary evidence that monitoring systems may lead to deviant behavior and decreased productivity from employees. This may be because employees who are being monitored feel that their organization does not trust them.
  • Use monitoring systems for development rather than punishment. This may mitigate the feelings of control and distrust that employees often feel when these systems are in use, while strengthening leader-follower relationships.


Thiel, C. E., McClean, S., Harvey,  J., & Prince, N. (2023). Trouble with big brother: Counterproductive consequences of electronic monitoring through the erosion of leader-member social exchange. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 44, 1320-1339.

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