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Don’t spy on employees to ensure they’re working, Microsoft says

SEATTLE – More than two years after remote work and hybrid jobs became widespread, there is still a stark divide over how it is going: About 85 per cent of managers worry they cannot tell if employees are getting enough done, while 87 per cent of workers say their productivity is just fine.

That was the finding of a survey on corporate attitudes by Microsoft Corp, the workplace software giant and owner of LinkedIn.

Managers’ fears about idle workers are creating what Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella calls “productivity paranoia”, with undesirable results like spying on employees.

“Leaders think their employees are not productive, whereas employees think they are being productive and in many cases even feel burnt out,” he said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

“One of the most important things for us in this new world of work and hybrid work is to bridge this paradox.”

Microsoft has been surveying global employees in a variety of industries a few times a year amid the pandemic – the latest data polled 20,000 people in 11 countries – aiming to track trends and adjust its technology to fit the needs of customers.

The data has continually showed a disconnect between managers and the rank and file, and Microsoft has been offering tools like its Viva employee experience software to bridge the gap.

Viva now has more than 10 million active monthly users at companies like PayPal and Unilever, which use it to help teams align their goals and stay in touch.

But even though new communication tools are putting bosses in closer contact with employees, Microsoft wants executives to know that workplace surveillance is not the answer to boosting productivity.

“There’s a growing debate about employee surveillance, and we have a really strong stance-we just think that’s wrong,” said Mr Jared Spataro, a Microsoft vice-president. “We don’t think that employers should be surveilling and taking note of the activity of keystrokes and mouse clicks and those types of things because, in so many ways, we feel like that’s measuring heat rather than outcome.”

Microsoft itself has had to adjust and dial back some features in its workplace products because they enabled this kind of behavior.

In 2020, the company made changes to its Productivity Score feature, which privacy advocates complained made it too easy to snoop on individual workers. Other pandemic work trends, like mass quitting, seem to be petering out.

For the first time in 18 months, what LinkedIn and Microsoft dubbed the “Great Reshuffle” and others called the “Great Resignation” is slowing. 

According to LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky, the year-over-year growth in people changing jobs on the platform is now flat, and more job listings are for in-person roles.