Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Magnifying Glass: Video Surveillance in the Workplace

Original image by twicepix at Flickr. Licensed
under Creative Commons.
As an audience built of Millenials, structured reality television is our guilty pleasure. As a nation, we consume more reality tv than ever. You're part of one even if you weren't aware of it. It isn't structured, there is no Chanel lipgloss, and we don't reap the financial benefits of photo shoots or club appearances. You're very much under the magnifying glass, be cautious not to be crushed underneath it. Welcome to reality television.

A recent Skills and Employment Survey concluded that job insecurity is now at a 20 year high. The results established that 52% of workers are concerned about job status, and almost a third of those questioned raised concerns of unfair treatment in the workplace. Anxiety among the workplace isn't a deviation and many struggle with daily worries when it comes to their employment. With less control and more surveillance, it could be suggested that this work orientated anxiety can result in a descent in productivity.

Employers have the right to monitor employees, this includes the use of CCTV, opening mail or e-mails, checking phone logs, making credit reference checks, and keeping track of work performance by monitoring point of sales terminals. Systematic monitoring is used regularly, however targeted monitoring is only justified within an investigation. The Data Protection Act states that the data captured must be used lawfully, and private areas such as changing rooms are prohibited for CCTV unless there is suspicion of unlawful behaviour or in extreme circumstances. To use CCTV, the employer must notify the employees that they are being monitored, and there must be visible signs to this effect.  The employer must also declare the purpose of the cameras to the Information Commissioners Office, and must only be used for this purpose and not for any use which undermines the primary use of the surveillance camera.

This is mostly a grey area though, as many employers will use these cameras to monitor work performance and identify bad habits within their team. No more eating left over chips by the heat lamp, then. The use of cameras in the work place is primarily to protect business interest and for security reasons to protect the employees. However, we are part of a culture that indulges in seeking information. We share information online, and in equal parts, we seek it. We consider ourselves amateur sleuths, and in fact it can be considered a strength - we can all conduct primary research these days. That's something useful for your CV, right there. We have embraced the consumption of surveillance of our friends, our family, and our co workers. We don't particularly enjoy closing the tab on Facebook, so would our employers really enjoy switching off prime time entertainment?

The problem with what can sometimes be considered as excessive monitoring in the work place can lead to group spread anxiety, and searching for problems in the workplace rather than using the cameras for security measures. Sometimes mistakes in the work place are easily swept up like shards of broken glass, however, there's no escape route when your employer has hit the record button - and worse, can hit rewind.

You may feel small under the magnifying glass, with faceless superiority looming over your every move and probably muttering about your chipped nail polish or chatty demeanour. The one comfort you have is knowing that even though you're being watched - so are they, and they have scarier people to answer to. Watch your step, it's getting crowded in the workplace, but there's enough anxiety to go around.

There's this street in Cardiff City Centre which is known to my friend and I as Rape Alley, it's badly lit and you spend the whole walk to it checking over your shoulder. All for cheap parking. Anecdotal fun aside, this is how many spend their hours in the workplace. They watch and analyse their every move, all for minimum wage.

Disclaimer: All views are my own, these by no means provide a reflection of my own experience in employment- past or present. Also remember, the magnifying glass is now in HD - make sure you brush your hair.

The Guardian
Citizens Advice