On Cameras and Surveillance

Tasset Eye

I’ve had two friends lose their jobs in the past few months because of work surveillance.

What this means is that, in one case, other employees in the same store were making assumptions and, in some cases, concocting lies about what the friend was doing and texting or e-mailing their “evidence” to superiors throughout the day.  An event would happen and, almost immediately, my friend would be bombarded with requests to explain her actions.  This was all in addition to sexist comments made by the good ole boys that she worked with.

In the other case, the employers had installed security cameras.  This was not done in order to protect the employees in case of robbery or theft (although there’d been a robbery there, and so a camera would have been useful in this manner), but was put in place in order to keep tabs on employee actions.  The cameras were linked to monitors upstairs in the office and were recorded for posterity’s sake.  This from a business – a café – that used to thrive on the personalities of its employees making customers feel comfortable and welcome.  But how welcoming can the employees make the customers feel when they don’t especially feel welcome themselves?

My best work experiences have been in places that had little to no oversight over the employees.  And, no, I don’t mean that the employers let us do whatever we want.  In the case of Poison Girl, the owners check the receipts weekly, if not every night, and regularly drop by the bar to help.  One of the owners comes in nearly every night around closing.

The main difference here is that he’s not coming by to check up on us.  In fact, he’s coming by to enjoy a drink and hang out with friends.  If there’s a problem, yo, he’ll solve it and have a drink while the DJ revolves it, but that’s not the intended goal.

When I was completing my MFA in Gainesville, I held a part-time job at a local coffee shop.  I already knew the people who worked there, so getting a job wasn’t a problem.  At this shop the person who managed it also ran a mobile phone store across the street.  She’d come by maybe once a day to check on things or bring supplies or whatever, but most of the time she left us on our own.

The point is that with both of these jobs, the employer trusted the employees.  Whether by chance or through amazing intuition, the owners hired people who were good at their job and weren’t looking to screw over the company for short-term self-interest (i.e., stealing).  These were (and are) the best jobs I’ve had largely because the employers trusted us, the employees, to do our jobs.  And without being micromanaged every step of the way, we were indeed free to do our jobs.

As for my first example, the problem for my friend was the management, who didn’t trust her and, instead, blindly trusted the reports from the people who were reporting on her.  In that case, I suppose you might say the employers were doing what it should have done, assuming they hired people they could trust: they trusted those informers.  But in doing so, they distrusted another employee who had worked with the company a long while and proven herself effective at her job.

The second example is less complicated.  The employers there weren’t dealing with conflicting reports from employees which required a judgment call that – in this case – was the wrong judgment, but understandable all the same.   In the second example, we have the installation of surveillance cameras to keep track of employees and make sure they’re on their best behavior.

But if you’ve gotten to the point where you are installing cameras to watch over your employees then you’ve already lost the battle.  The point is that you should be hiring employees that you can trust.  If you can trust them, then you don’t need the cameras.  If you install the cameras, that means you need to watch the footage they record, which means wasted time watching over your employees and, at that point, you might as well be behind the counter serving the customers yourself because it’s obvious you don’t trust anyone else to do it for you.

And it’s not as though cameras really prevent crime.  If you hire employees who will cheat you, then they’ll cheat you no matter how much you attempt to watch them or deter them.  Given time, any security measure can be overcome and, in the case of cameras, it usually means dead areas of coverage.  The employees find out those spots where the cameras can’t reach them, and then they can do everything they want without fear of repercussion because they know they aren’t being watched.

And since the cameras were installed in the first place, they know that their employer doesn’t trust them, a realization that doesn’t really breed loyalty in an employee.  In fact, it fosters the opposite.

Look at it this way. You either hire people that you trust, or you don’t hire anyone.  If you do the former, you’ll manage – after trial and error, if you’re a good judge of character – to have employees who will look after your interests and who will care about the business because you’ve shown that you care about them.

If you do the latter, then, well, say goodbye.  Pack in your goods.  In terms of society, you’re non-viable.  No one can survive trusting no one.

Okay, maybe you can, but I can guarantee you won’t be very happy.

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