GPS Tracking of Employees: Are You Spying on Your Staff?

By Rieva Lesonsky

Many of us have become dependent on GPS to help us navigate unfamiliar places. GPS (which is short for Global Positioning System) is dependent on a system of more than 30 navigation satellites circling the Earth. According to NASA, “We know where they are because they constantly send out signals. A GPS receiver in your phone listens for these signals. Once the receiver calculates its distance from four or more GPS satellites, it can figure out where you are.”

GPS can also help you figure out where others are—people like your employees. Does this sound extreme to you? It’s not. In fact, GPS tracking is already a part of the daily routine for many Americans in the workforce, especially in certain industries. And its use is spreading, according to a study for Intuit, conducted by Kelton Global.

Employers rely on GPS tracking to monitor employee whereabouts, to track mileage, optimize rules of the road, and protect their employees from harm. Just like GPS tracking has many purposes, it also can be implemented in a variety of ways. Some employers opt to use company-issued property, like cars and devices, to keep tabs on their employees while others track their employees via their own personal property they use on the job (phones, vehicles, etc.).

While GPS tracking of employees is often optional, the employees surveyed think it will become more commonplace and even mandatory within the next five years. While you might think employees would rebel at the idea and think their employers are spying on them, in actuality, the report shows “most workers view companies that use GPS tracking in a positive light.” They’re “comfortable” being tracked—as long as their employers are “transparent about how they are getting and using the information they’re collecting.”

And employees see a personal benefit in GPS tracking—they believe it can help simplify their daily tasks, making them more motivated and productive.

Who is being tracked

According to the report, 57% of employees say their companies already use GPS tracking. Gig economy employees are more likely to be GPS tracked than any other workers—90% use it. Already, 77% of construction workers and 68% of those who work in technology or tech services use GPS tracking, while only 39% of those who work in professional services are.

The advantages of GPS tracking your employees

Businesses have various reasons to GPS track their staffs. Even though GPS tracking is famously known as a location tracker, only 29% of companies use it to monitor their employees’ whereabouts. Its most common uses are for monitoring mileage (39%), increasing on-the-job-safety (33%), and optimizing routes to the job (29%).

GPS tracking is also being used to “optimize efficiency,” with 27% using GPS to coordinate employee jobs based on location, 22% using it to help schedule new calls and appointment and 19% using it to set up areas of coverage.

Mandatory or optional?

Most of the employees surveyed were told by their employers that being GPS tracked was a “job necessity.” Almost half (47%) were informed before they started working (14% found out during their job interview, while 15% were told when they accepted the job). However, 27% of employees didn’t find out they’d be tracked until they actually started working.

While the study showed 81% of employees are “comfortable” being GPS tracked—with one caveat. They’re okay if the tracking is done through a company-owned device or vehicle. But when the tracking is conducted via their own personal property (phone, car, etc.) the approval number decreases to 66%. And 30% say they’re “extremely uncomfortable” if they’re being tracked via their own personal devices or vehicles.

Location matters. Employees who are city-dwellers are more comfortable with being tracked than those who live in the suburbs or in rural areas, no matter if the tracking was done via company-owned devices (85% versus 76%) or personal devices (75% versus 58%).

Younger employees are also more comfortable then older ones, no matter how they’re tracked—85% versus 77% for company-owned devices and 70% versus 59% for personal devices.

Concerns about GPS tracking

Of course, employees have some concerns about being tracked—80% have at least one concern, including worrying their data and information could be shared (60%) and being afraid their personal info would be spread around their place of employment (41%). This makes 69% of them nervous their colleagues (31%) or people outside their company (38%) could gain access to their info. More men (84%) than women (77%) have these concerns.

To ease these fears, transparency is key. Tracking isn’t going on in secret—95% of employees  say they know when they’re being tracked. Perhaps surprisingly most employees “trust their employers are only tracking the information they need.” Only 15% are worried their companies are using GPS tracking to get personal information about them.

The upside of being tracked

Many workers see the positives in being tracked by GPS—25% say it helps them be more efficient, 24% say it makes them more motivated and 22% say it increases their productivity. And 30% credit GPS tracking with showing their bosses how hard they work, with 16% giving tracking credit for helping them get a raise or a promotion (13%) and 30% saying being tracked helps them get a more accurate paycheck. Indeed, 53% of workers say they’d be more inclined to accept a job with GPS tracking if it ensured they got paid accurately.

Conversely, some employees believe their employers are tracking their efficiency and that it can be used against them.

The future of employee tracking

Most employees (69%) predict more companies will start tracking their workers using GPS technology. And 66% say that’s ok, giving credit to GPS tracking for helping them feel safe at work (48%), motivated (28%), relieved (23%) and empowered (17%).

Employees are also hopeful there’ll be more privacy laws about business use of GPS tracking enacted in the next five years and that systems of the future will better protect their personal privacy.

But the biggest benefit of GPS tracking most employees are looking forward to is a more flexible workplace—42% want a system that automatically checks them in and out of work, while 38% are hoping, since their employees know where they are at all times, they won’t ever have to go to the office again.

The one caution employers should note is employees do not want to feel like “Big Brother” is watching them. So if you implement a GPS tracking system at your small business, be sure to emphasize you’re not spying on them and highlight the numerous benefits being GPS tracked offers your employees.