Should you make your employees download an app?

Technology is changing the way we work, but hourly workers are still hesitant to download employer apps.

| Updated: Jun 07, 2022


It is no secret that technology has changed many industries over the years, and the most simple way that has happened is with the introduction of workplace apps.

Many hourly businesses have opted for using apps as a way to stay in touch with their employees and provide employees with more increased transparency into their employee accounts and time-off.

In industries like restaurants or retail, apps are often welcomed because the workforce is mostly younger generations who are used to downloading apps for productivity.

On the other hand, industries like manufacturing and construction, have a harder time convincing their employees to download an app because they aren’t used to it, and are skeptical of what the employer is able to access.

So the question is: Should you require your employees to download an app?

What are employee apps used for?

Employee apps enable employees to receive work-related information, wherever they may be, through their smartphones. These apps can span numerous objectives, including communication, collaboration, engagement, workflow tracking, scheduling, and timekeeping.

For example, since the pandemic, many companies have (rightfully so) started focusing more on employee well-being and mental health - pulse surveys and check-ins are a lot easier, and less pressured when done with the help of technology. Especially with an audience that has a stigma around mental health.

Employers also benefit from managing hourly workers’ time (or non-exempt workers) in multiple ways. Having hourly workers “punch in and punch out” on a smartphone app allows for flexibility in time tracking and ensures that accurate hours are entered for payroll.

Apps and technology can make things much easier for a workforce that has always had a manual way of doing things, but what if the workforce is not as accepting? Can employers make their employees download an app on their phones if they don’t want to?

Can employers make their employees download an app on their phones?

So, now we get to the question: can you require your employees to download an app onto their personal smartphones?

The short answer is yes.

To fully understand the impact of requiring your employees to download an app, you also need to consider whether the phone is the property of the company or the employee. .

If you ask employees to download an app onto a company-provided phone, the answer is undeniably yes. It’s company property, and the employer can dictate how and when the phone is used, including downloading apps.

But what if you’re requesting an employee download an app to their personal phone?

The answer is still yes unless an employment agreement or collectively bargained agreement says otherwise.

Although, you may get pushback from the employee in this instance.

Employees may not want to download the app if they have to buy it or use their personal data to use the app.

It’s not illegal for employers to require employees to use their personal phones at work. Consider two reasons for this. First, with technology advancing as it is, it’s reasonable for employers to want to protect any work data flowing through their employees’ personal phones.

Second, unless you have an employment or a union agreement in place, most employment in the U.S. is at-will. Because of this, unless discrimination is present, the employer may discipline or terminate the employee for failing to follow work-related rules if the employee refuses to download an app.

Are there any privacy concerns with making your employees download an app on their personal phones?

Security is the main concern raised by employees when it comes to downloading an app. By downloading a work-related app onto their personal phones, many employees wonder if the employers now have access to the employee’s personal information?

In 2019, Starbucks rolled out a new scheduling app called Teamworks.

Starbucks’ workers could access their schedules through this app while clocking in and out of their shifts. However, despite its well-publicized rollout on a 2019 earnings call, issues immediately cropped up. With hours not adequately calculated or schedules showing up late, employees complained about the app on numerous internet forums.

Of particular concern, baristas raised “privacy concerns about downloading the app to their personal mobile devices because of the apps’ functionality and terms of service.” For example, the app required full access to personal devices, giving many employees pause. Other employees were skeptical, believing that data tracking would occur, despite Starbucks’ promises to the contrary. And maybe for good reason, ADP offers GPS tracking as a feature with their TimeKeeping app.

So, should you make your employees download an app?

Employee concerns of privacy and data tracking are valid.

On the other hand, no one wants to feel like they’re living in an Orwellian novel. So, although it’s legal to require your employees to download an app, you might want to take a softer approach first.

Ask your employees how they feel about downloading an app to their personal phones. Take a poll. Text out a survey. Get feedback from your teams before you decide to force something on them.

Incentivizing employees also goes a long way to encouraging desired behavior among your workers. And incentives don’t have to take the form of cash. Instead, think about offering personalized gifts to encourage your employees to “buy-in” to the app’s need and purpose.

By exploring your alternatives in the market, you can take advantage of the flexibility and accuracy of employee apps without sparing privacy—making your workplace safe for all employees while encouraging engagement and productivity.

Sheila Stafford is the CEO and co-founder of TeamSense. She has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing engineering and management. Sheila brings a unique perspective to the world of team communication. Drawing on her own experiences as well as those of her customers, she is dedicated to helping teams break down the barriers that impede effective communication.