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Workplace Monitoring Issues: Government Surveillance Agency Edition

Posted on: May 1st, 2014 | Category: Employee Relations, Government Regulatory & Compliance Issues, HR Documentation, Human Resources, Our Blog

NSA and employee monitoring -  myHR PartnerWe recently learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) has its own version of “Dear Abby”, thanks to leaked documents by former security contractor Edward Snowden. The advice column, written by an agency veteran under the pseudonym “Zelda”, appears to indicate that the NSA offices have some of the same human resources issues as other organizations, including…wait for it…workplace monitoring issues.

Yes. That’s right. The government agency constantly under scrutiny for its surveillance operations is having employee privacy issues.

The blog HR Morning reports that one of the columns replied to an employee who was concerned about a manager listening in on other people’s conversations to find out gossip. Some employees were also asked to find out information and then report back to the manager in question, according to the person writing in to Zelda.

From HR Morning:

A column from September 2011 addressed an employee who was concerned about a manager who was listening in on employee conversations to glean the latest gossip — and who had even gone so far as to assign certain employees to snitch on others.

Zelda’s response: “Wow that takes ‘intelligence gathering’ in a whole new —and inappropriate — direction!”

You and your co-workers could ask [the supervisor] for a team meeting and lay out the issue as you see it: “We feel like you don’t trust us and we aren’t comfortable making small talk anymore for fear of having our desks moved if we’re seen as being too chummy.” (Leave out the part about the snitches.) Tell him how this is hampering collaboration and affecting the work, ask him if he has a problem with the team’s behavior, and see what he says. Encourage him to come directly to the employee in question if he has a concern (rather than ask a third party to gather intel for him).

Zelda had some wise words for managers who are considering questionable NSA employee monitoring in their places of work. Once broken, she says, trust is hard to rebuild, and the healing in the workplace that follows such practices even after they have stopped takes a lot of time.

Need help with company monitoring policies or other employee relations issues?

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