Should Managers Trust Their Employees, or Spy on Them?

The Importance of Trust in the Workplace: A LinkedIn Debate

One of my followers on twitter (“Pete”) sent me a link the other day that blew me away. Well, it shouldn’t have surprised me, but somehow this stuff keeps surprising me anyway.

Pete was engaged in a lively discussion on his LinkedIn group about this topic: “Should managers trust their employees?” Most of the managers in his group were firmly on one side of the debate and poor Pete, the lone defender of TRUST, was on the other.

I started talking to Pete about this experience and really got sucked into the story. Some of the things these managers said about their employees were truly cringe-worthy (these are real quotes):

Spy away on employees; monitor their keystrokes and websites they visit.

Employees cannot be using company computers for personal use, not on my nickel!

One employer took away her employees’ (2) ten minute breaks because they not only used those 20 minutes, but they took additional breaks to use the restroom, chat with co-workers, and get coffee (!!!)

Employees should not be leaving early. There is always work to be done, so work is not over until 5:00.

If you give employees privileges, they will abuse it.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll spare you the dramatic details of how these managers swapped tips on spying on their employees and monitoring their every move. I just loved Pete’s response. He took a lot of heat in this discussion, and he makes a few key points worth sharing.

With all due respect, I’m glad I don’t work for you. ‘Spy away’? Really? I would find it very difficult to work for someone who does not trust me, and I wonder why you’ve hired people you obviously don’t trust. You’re paying employees to accomplish tasks. Is the employee performing his/her tasks well and on-time? If the answer is yes, then what is the problem? How is that employee “stealing?” If the answer is no, then again, there should be consequences. You can’t afford slackers. My point is that the focus should be on results, on getting the job done well and on-time, not on whether someone spent 10 minutes on Facebook.

You can imagine the flames Pete felt after that response. He was deemed naive, not in charge of anything important, and one person even said Pete “had a hole in his head.” In this group of about 10 managers, only 1 person was focused on results. Not babysitting, not spying, not making sure everyone was in their seats when the bell rang. Just results. Bravo, Pete! I agree with you. It’s much more productive to focus on results! Without trust, you’re wasting time and resources patrolling the hallways.

Should you spy?

What do you think? Spy on your employees, or trust them? I know you have some stories and we want to hear them!

Jody Thompson

Jody Thompson, along with her partner Cali Ressler, is the Founder of CultureRx and co-creator of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Jody is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and bestselling author. She has been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, HR Executive Magazine, and the New York Times. You can find her on Linkedin.

Reader Interactions


  1. roy says

    He does not preserve the life of the wicked,
    But gives justice to the oppressed. Job 36:6

  2. Eric Savina says

    The sad thing is that these managers don’t realize how smooth and cool their life would be if they were to trust their employees.

    In my team, I allow people to use the company resources for personal matters but I make it clear from the start that I don’t want them to hide or do it behind my back. You want to use Facebook? Fine, as long as you don’t use [Alt + Tab] when I enter the office.

    And I don’t believe that I am paying for their time. I am paying them for results. I have been an employee before being a manager and I know for sure how it feels to be “on the clock”. By asking employees to get things done in the simpliest way and encourage results over attendance, one might be surprised how great results can be achieved.

    ROWE power!

  3. Razwana says

    Jody – yikes! Do people really think like this? To trust or not to trust – which side the manager falls on is a reflection on their own intentions/character.

    I agree with Peter that the results the employees achieve within the time they spend are more important than the breaks they take.

    My question would be for the managers who do spy, rather than focusing on results – how are they calculating ROI for the business in general, exactly? The same principle applies to employees, right?

    – Razwana

    • Jody Thompson says

      Razwana – Peter is spot on! And yes. Focus on clear and measurable results for the business and employees makes sense. In fact, if employees have an equal measure of autonomy and accountability, everything soars! Managers need to stop the silly monitoring of the hallways, and monitor results. Adults can manage their own time.

  4. Jessica Miller-Merrell says


    You know how I feel about this. Any manager that resorts to this measures should not be a manager. They need to give their employees deadlines, follow up with them and trust that they will make good judgements and meet the goals assigned to them.

    I had co-workers who were professional screw offs who knew how to resassign meetings, schedule and cancel conference calls and book travel just to look important and busy. It drove me crazy. If I can get the job done in less time than the rest of the group, it should be enough. I should be entitled to make the decision to ask for more work, screw around or go home. Don’t penalize me because I am focused and know how to do my job.


    • Jody Thompson says

      Right on! Time + Physical Presence is the old measure of work. Looking busy, talking around a physical water coolers, and managing by walking around is so last century.


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