Monitoring employees seems like a no-brainer. We watch employees to make sure that they are following all of the safety rules, regulations and best practices, then we evaluate based on their compliance. If they know they are being monitored, they will make sure to comply. Their performance evaluations can be tied into real evidence as to whether they have complied. There is no privacy issue because they know they are being monitored and it is on company-owned property or at least company owned time.

Win-win-win, isn’t it?

It’s not so simple. Let’s discuss a psychological construct called framing. The essence of framing is that a person’s response to any environment is going to be strongly influenced by how it is presented to them and what emotions this presentation frame creates. For example, is the monitoring designed to punish them for noncompliance? Or is it to reward them for compliance?

This gain/loss frame won Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. I want to share with you a different frame, one that fundamentally changes the way employees respond to monitoring — the evaluative/informational frame.

Evaluative framing

Evaluative framing is when the employee feels that his or compliance is being monitored for the purpose of performance evaluation. The information is intended to be used by the company to control the behavior of the employee. Behavior is categorized as either good (compliance) or bad (noncompliance).

Informational framing

Informational framing involves the same monitoring, but the way it is presented to the employee is different. The employee feels that the information is intended to provide feedback on how he/she is doing, with the purpose to help him/her improve performance and compliance based on that learning. The information is being collected for the employee’s benefit and purposes rather than the company’s.

In both cases, the same behaviors are being monitored and compared to the same standards. But in the first case, the company is giving the employee the impressions that “We are watching you,” “We want to compare you to your co-workers,” and “Your compensation is based on what we see.”

In the second case the company is giving the employee the impressions that “You want to know if your performance is getting better over time (from learning) or worse (from fatigue or boredom)” and “You want to know how you are doing to know if you need to adjust to be safer or to do a better job.”

A large body of evidence that employees in an evaluative frame become less motivated over time. In contrast, employees in an informational frame become more motivated over time. The difference is quite significant. So, do you monitor your employees’ performance and compliance? How are you framing it to them?