Organizational Surveillance of Computer-Mediated Workplace Communication: Employee Privacy Concerns and Responses

  • Rebecca M. Chory
  • Lori E. Vela
  • Theodore A. Avtgis


Email, social media, and other types of computer-mediated workplace communication tools can enhance flexibility in how employees perform their jobs, expand networking opportunities, increase profits, cut costs, and enable collaboration among diverse groups across the globe. Despite their advantages, these technology tools can also cause security breaches, financial loss, employee distraction, and lawsuits. To prevent such damaging consequences, many companies monitor their employees’ computer-mediated workplace communication. However, this surveillance is often met with resistance from employees as it taps into concerns over workers’ privacy rights, due process, and fairness. We examine these employee concerns through an empirical study of full-time working adults’ beliefs about their computer-mediated workplace communication privacy and their evaluations of organizational justice, trust in upper management, and commitment to the organization. Our results suggest that employees who perceive less computer-mediated workplace communication privacy tend to view their organization’s policies as less fair, trust upper management less, and demonstrate less commitment to their organizations. Furthermore, results indicate that procedural justice mediated the relationship between privacy and organizational commitment and moderated the relationship between privacy and organizational trust.


Employee privacy Electronic monitoring Organizational justice Social networking Communication 


Ethical Approval Statement

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


  1. Alder, G. S., & Tompkins, P. K. (1997). Electronic performance monitoring: an organizational justice and concertive control perspective. Management Communication Quarterly, 10, 259–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alge, B. J. (2001). Effects of computer surveillance on perceptions of privacy and procedural justice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 797–804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen, M. W., Coopman, S. J., Hart, J. L., & Walker, K. L. (2007). Workplace surveillance and managing privacy boundaries. Management Communication Quarterly, 21, 172–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Altman, I. (1975). The environment and social behavior. Monterey: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  5. Altman, I. (1976). Privacy: a conceptual analysis. Environment and Behavior, 18, 7–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. American Management Association, & The ePolicy Institute. (2014). 2007 electronic monitoring and surveillance survey. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from
  7. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator distinction in social psychological research: conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baxter, G. J., & Connolly, T. M. (2013). The “state of art” of organisational blogging. The Learning Organization, 20, 104–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bies, R. J., & Moag, J. S. (1986). Interactional justice: communication criteria of fairness. In R. J. Lewicki, B. H. Sheppard, & M. Bazerman (Eds.), Research on negotiation in organizations (vol. 1, pp. 43–55). Greenwich: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  10. Botan, C. (1996). Communication work and electronic surveillance: a model for predicting panoptic effects. Communication Monographs, 63, 293–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Social network sites: definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 210–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown, W. S. (1996). Technology, workplace privacy, and personhood. Journal of Business Ethics, 15, 1237–1248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chory, R. M., & Hubbell, A. P. (2008). Organizational justice and managerial trust as predictors of antisocial employee responses. Communication Quarterly, 56, 357–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chory, R. M., & Westerman, C. Y. K. (2009). Feedback and fairness: the relationship between negative performance feedback and organizational justice. Western Journal of Communication, 73, 157–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cohen, J., & Cohen, P. (1983). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc..Google Scholar
  16. Colquitt, J. A., Conlon, D. E., Wesson, M. J., Porter, C. O. L. H., & Ng, K. Y. (2001). Justice at the millennium: A meta-analytic review of 25 years of organizational justice research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 425–445.Google Scholar
  17. Conner, C. (2013, September 07 ). Who wastes the most time at work? Forbes. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from
  18. Cropanzano, R., & Greenberg, J. (1997). Progress in organizational justice: Tunneling through the maze. In C. L. Cooper, & I. T. Robertson (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 317–372). London: Wiley.Google Scholar
  19. Dillon, T. W., Hamilton, A. J., Thomas, D. S., & Usry, M. L. (2008). The importance of communicating workplace privacy policies. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 20, 119–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ellis, R. (2014, December 20). Lawsuits say Sony Pictures should have expected security breach. Retrieved February 3, 2015 from
  21. Fairweather, N. B. (1999). Surveillance in employment. The case of teleworking. Journal of Business Ethics, 22, 39–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Friedman, B. A., & Reed, L. J. (2007). Workplace privacy: employee relations and legal implications of monitoring employee e-mail use. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 19, 75–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Geddes, D. (1993). Examining the dimensionality of performance feedback messages: source and recipient perceptions of influence attempts. Communication Studies, 44, 200–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gouveia, A. (2013). 2013 wasting time at work survey. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from
  25. Greenberg, J. (1986). Stealing in the name of justice: informational and interpersonal moderators of theft reactions to underpayment inequity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 54, 81–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grimland, S., Vigoda-Gadot, E., & Baruch, Y. (2012). Career attitudes and success of managers: the impact of chance event, protean, and traditional careers. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23, 1074–1094.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Henik, A., & Tzelgov, J. (1985). Control of halo error: a multiple regression approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 70, 577–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hoffman, W. M., Hartman, L. P., & Rowe, M. (2003). You’ve got mail... and the boss knows: A survey by the Center for Business Ethics of companies’ email and internet monitoring. Business and Society Review, 108, 285–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Holpuch, A. (2014, December 15 ). Sony email hack: what we’ve learned about greed, racism and sexism. The Guardian. Retrieved February 03, 2015 from
  30. Homans, G. C. (1961). Social behavior. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.Google Scholar
  31. Hubbell, A. P., & Chory-Assad, R. M. (2005). Motivating factors: perceptions of justice and their relationship with managerial and organizational trust. Communication Studies, 56, 47–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Judd, C. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1981). Process analysis: estimating mediation in treatment evaluations. Evaluation Review, 5, 602–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kimmel, A. J. (2007). Ethical Issues in behavioral research: Basic and applied perspectives. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. King, N. J. (2003). Electronic monitoring to promote national security impacts workplace privacy. Employee Responsibility and Rights Journal, 15, 127–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lee, H. H., Park, S. R., & Hwang, T. (2008). Corporate-level blogs of the fortune 500 companies: an empirical investigation of content and design. International Journal of Information Technology and Management, 7, 134–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lee, S., & Kleiner, B. H. (2003). Electronic surveillance in the workplace. Management Research News, 26, 72–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Leventhal, G. S. (1980). What should be done with equity theory? In K. J. Gergen, M. S. Greenberg, & R. H. Willis (Eds.), Social exchanges: Advances in theory and research (pp. 27–55). New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lucero, M. A., Allen, R. E., & Elzweig, B. (2013). Managing employee social networking: evolving views from the national labor relations board. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 25, 143–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lune, H. (2010). Understanding organizations. Malden: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  40. MacKinnon, D. P., Fairchild, A. J., & Fritz, M. S. (2007). Mediation analysis. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 593–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mainiero, L., & Jones, K. (2013). Sexual harassment versus workplace romance: social media spillover and textual harassment in the workplace. Academy of Management Perspectives, 27, 187–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, F. D. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust. Academy of Management Review, 20, 709–734.Google Scholar
  43. McGrory-Dixon, A. (2011, November 28 ). Half of employers monitor employee Internet usage. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from
  44. Meyer, J. P., & Allen, N. J. (1997). Commitment in the workplace. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  45. Meyer, S. (1981). The five dollar day: Labor, management and social control in the Ford Motor Company, 1908–1921. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  46. Mowday, R. T. (1998). Reflections on the study and relevance of organizational commitment. Human Resource Management Review, 8, 387–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mowday, R. T., Porter, L. W., & Steers, R. M. (1982). Employee-organization linkages: The psychology of commitment absenteeism and turnover. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  48. Murray, W. C., & Rostis, A. (2007). Who’s running the machine? A theoretical exploration of work stress and burnout of technologically tethered workers. Journal of Individual Employment Rights, 12, 249–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Nyhan, R. C. (2000). Changing the paradigm: trust and its role in public sector organizations. American Review of Public Administration, 30, 87–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pazos, P., Chung, J. M., & Micari, M. (2013). Instant messaging as a task-support tool in information technology organizations. Journal of Business Communication, 50, 68–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Petrecca, L. (2010, March 17 ). More employers use tech to track workers. USA today. Retrieved from
  52. Petronio, S. (2002). Boundaries of privacy: Dialectics of disclosure. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  53. Porter, L. W., & Smith, F. J. (1970). The etiology of organizational commitment. Unpublished paper, University of California at Irvine.Google Scholar
  54. PR Newswire (2003, September 17). Blue Coat study reveals abusive language, job gripes and sexual advances rampant among IM use at work. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from
  55. Rosenberg, R. S. (1999). The workplace on the verge of the 21st century. Journal of Business Ethics, 22, 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sayers, J. K., Sears, K. L., Kelly, K. M., & Harbke, C. R. (2011). When employees engage in workplace incivility: the interactive effect of psychological contract violation and organizational justice. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 23, 269–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sewell, G., & Barker, J. R. (2006). Coercion versus care: using irony to make sense of organizational surveillance. Academy of Management Review, 31, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Snider, M. (2014, December 31 ). Employees’ “electronic leash” gets tighter. USA Today, 3B.Google Scholar
  59. Snyder, J. L. (2010). Email privacy in the workplace: a boundary regulation perspective. Journal of Business Communication, 47, 266–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Snyder, J. L., & Cistulli, M. D. (2011). The relationship between workplace e-mail privacy and psychological contract violation, and their influence on trust in top management and affective commitment. Communication Research Reports, 28, 121–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Snyder, J. L., & Cornetto, K. M. (2009). Employee perceptions of e-mail monitoring from a boundary management perspective. Communication Studies, 60, 476–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Stone, E. F., & Stone, D. L. (1990). Privacy in organizations: theoretical issues, research findings, and protection mechanisms. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 8, 349–411.Google Scholar
  63. Tabak, F., & Smith, W. P. (2005). Privacy and electronic monitoring in the workplace: a model of managerial cognition and relational trust development. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 17, 173–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Thibaut, J., & Walker, L. (1975). Procedural justice: A psychological analysis. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  65. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor. (2014). Labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey. Retrieved August 24, 2015 from
  66. Wharton School. (2012, May 09 ). Declining employee loyalty: a casualty of the new workplace. Knowledge@Wharton. Retrieved February 06, 2015 from
  67. Whitener, E. M., Brodt, S. E., Korsgaard, M. A., & Werner, J. M. (1998). Managers as initiators of trust: an exchange relationship framework for understanding managerial trustworthy behavior. Academy of Management Review, 23, 513–530.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca M. Chory
    • 1
  • Lori E. Vela
    • 2
  • Theodore A. Avtgis
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Management, College of BusinessFrostburg State UniversityFrostburgUSA
  2. 2.Western Governor’s UniversityAustinUSA
  3. 3.Department of Communication StudiesAshland UniversityAshlandUSA

Personalised recommendations