When one of his employees phoned in sick last year, Scott McDonald, CEO of Monument Security in Sacramento, Calif., decided to investigate. He had already informed his staff of 400 security guards and patrol drivers that he was installing Xora, a software program that tracks workers' whereabouts through GPS technology on their company cell phones. A Web-based "geo-fence" around work territories would alert the boss if workers strayed or even drove too fast. It also enabled him to route workers more efficiently. So when McDonald logged on, the program told him exactly where his worker was--and it wasn't in bed with the sniffles. "How come you're eastbound on 80 heading to Reno right now if you're sick?" asked the boss. There was a long silence--the sound of a job ending--followed by, "You got me."
For every employer who lets his staff know they're on watch, there are plenty who snoop on the sly. A general manager at a computer outfit in the Northeast wondered about a worker's drop-off in productivity. Using software called SurfControl, the manager saw the man was spending an inordinate amount of time at an innocently named website. It turned out to feature hard-core porn. The worker was conducting market research for his escort service, a venture for which he soon had plenty of time after he got canned. "I don't give a rat's rear what they do at home," says the manager, who wishes to keep his and his company's name private. "But what they do at work is all my business."
Learn that truth, and learn it well: what you do at work is the boss's business. Xora and SurfControl are just some of the new technologies from a host of companies that have sprung up in the past two years peddling products and services--software, GPS, video and phone surveillance, even investigators--that let managers get to know you really well. The worst mole sits right on your desk. Your computer can be rigged to lock down work files, restrict Web searches and flag e-mailed jokes about the CEO's wife.
"Virtually nothing you do at work on a computer can't be monitored," says Jeremy Gruber, legal director of the National Workrights Institute, which advocates workplace privacy. Nine out of 10 employers observe your electronic behavior, according to the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College. A study by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute found 76% of employers watch you surf the Web and 36% track content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard. If that isn't creepy enough, 38% hire staff to sift through your e-mail. And they act on that knowledge. A June survey by Forrester Research and Proofpoint found that 32% of employers fired workers over the previous 12 months for violating e-mail policies by sending content that posed legal, financial, regulatory or p.r. risks.