Don’t Spy on Employees to Ensure They’re Working, Microsoft Says

(Bloomberg) — More than two years after remote work and hybrid jobs became rife, there’s still a stark division over how things are going: About 85% of executives worry they can’t tell if employees are getting enough done , while 87% of workers say their productivity is fine.

That’s according to a survey of corporate attitudes by Microsoft Corp., the workplace software giant and owner of LinkedIn. Managers’ fears about inactive employees lead to what Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella calls “productivity paranoia,” with unwanted results, such as spying on employees.

“Leaders think their employees are not productive, while employees think they are productive and in many cases feel burned out,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “One of the most important things for us in this new world of work and hybrid work is to bridge this paradox.”

A few times a year during the pandemic, Microsoft surveyed global workers across industries — the latest data from 20,000 people in 11 countries — with the goal of tracking trends and adapting the technology to customer needs.

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The data consistently shows that there is a gap between managers and the grassroots, and Microsoft offers tools like its Viva employee experience software to help bridge the gap. Viva now has over 10 million active monthly users with companies such as PayPal Holdings Inc. and Unilever Plc, who use it to help teams align their goals and stay connected.

But while new communication tools bring bosses closer to employees, Microsoft wants executives to know that workplace monitoring isn’t the answer to increasing productivity.

“There’s a growing debate about employee surveillance and we have a very strong stance — we just think that’s wrong,” said Jared Spataro, a Microsoft vice president. “We don’t think employers should monitor the activity of keystrokes and mouse clicks and stuff like that because in so many ways we feel like it’s measuring heat rather than result.”

Microsoft itself has had to adjust and call back some features in its workplace products because they enabled this kind of behavior. In 2020, the company made changes to its productivity scoring feature, causing privacy advocates to complain that spying on individual employees was too easy.

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Other pandemic work trends, such as mass quitting, appear to be waning. For the first time in 18 months, what LinkedIn and Microsoft called the “Great Reshuffle” and others called the “Great Resignation” is slowing down. The annual growth rate in the number of people switching jobs on LinkedIn is now flat, according to Ryan Roslansky, who leads the service. And more vacancies are for personal positions.

Before the pandemic, 2% of jobs on LinkedIn were listed as external, a number that had increased to 20% by March 2022. Now that has dropped to 15%, he said.

Many senior business leaders long to return to the pre-pandemic days of personal work, Spataro said. But Microsoft still recommends a flexible approach.

“People come to work for other people, not because of some policy,” Nadella said.

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