A couple of decades ago, the television show Candid Camera popularized the hidden camera by tricking people into acting ridiculous, and then informing them they were being taped. Even in the 21st century, people who suspect they're being tricked may ask, "Am I on Candid Camera?" But in the intervening years, cameras have evolved into a very powerful tool for protecting businesses, and most people are captured on camera several times a day.
If you run a small business, you may not be aware of all the ways that you can use a hidden camera to protect your employees, your customers, and your inventory. When margins are tight, you need to use every available tool to keep your business running smoothly, and taking care of all of your stakeholders, including yourself, just makes good business sense.
The following tips will guide you in making decisions about how to use a hidden camera in your workplace to protect your business and prevent losses of any kind.
1. Install a hidden camera near the cash register.
This may be the most obvious hidden camera location, but it's also the most logical. Make sure your employees know that they're being recorded, and make sure they understand that you are not targeting any specific individual. A hidden camera near the cash register does help prevent employees from deliberately pocketing money, but that's not its only purpose.
You hope, of course, that you will never have a burglary. However, having a hidden camera watching the cash register can help authorities identify a burglar if your business is attacked. Your camera can be a very valuable aid in apprehending a burglar.
Employee theft and burglary are only two problems your business may face. A third, and much more insidious problem, is wasted time. In many businesses, employee's friends drop by and hang around the store talking and keeping employees from working. This time theft can cost you much more in a year than you lose from actual employee theft or burglary, and a hidden camera is the best way to catch, and stop, it.
2. Install a camera near employee exits.
Most employees don't think of coming in late, taking a long lunch, or leaving early as theft, but the time they take from you is valuable. Most of your employees will stop this behavior if they know they're being watched.
Installing a camera, hidden or not, at all exit points, will allow you to keep an eye on employees and address any continuing problems with attendance. The very presence of a camera will give most employees pause in leaving early.
If you need to discipline employees who continue to leave the workplace early, come in late or take extended lunches, time-stamped footage from the exit cameras will help you make your case and protect you from lawsuits.
3. Place more than one hidden camera in public areas of your business to monitor customer service.
Some companies spend thousands of dollars each year on mystery shoppers to report on customer service in their stores. You can achieve something very similar simply by recording your employees' interaction with customers and using the recordings as teaching tools.
Most of your employees have never had formal training in dealing with customers, and may not understand what they're doing wrong or how they come across to customers. By using a hidden camera and walking them through the footage and examples of more proper behavior, you can work actively with them to improve their interpersonal skills.
4. Tell your employees about the hidden camera.
While you have a right, as an employer, to place cameras in public areas of your workplace, you risk hurting your relationships with your employees if they discover they're being recorded or photographed without their knowledge.
Some employees will be very unhappy about cameras even if they know about them, and some people may refuse to work for an employer who uses a hidden camera. Most employees, however, will have initial bad feelings and then accept the camera as a part of the workplace.
Talking to your employees about cameras lets them know what you're doing and why, gives them fair warning to stop behaviors that may cause them problems if recorded, and lets them know that you're only recording in public areas and in compliance with the law and with common decency.
As an employer, you need to focus not just on your legal right to use cameras, but also on your relationship with your employees, and on providing the best environment for employees and customers.
5. Be reasonable when viewing photos and tapes.
It is very easy to find flaws when you're watching something that has already happened. Coming down hard on your employees for every infraction will not help your business, and can make your employees less effective. If they're worried that every little misstep will get them yelled at, they're unlikely to perform well.
You have guidelines for employee behavior, and you know, instinctively, when you see an employee breaking those guidelines. But when you're standing in the same room as the employee, you make a decision as to whether that behavior warrants correction. It's harder, when you're watching a tape and see something happening, to keep that same objectivity. When you're not standing next to a real person, you can overreact to a situation.
Take notes on the footage as you watch it, and keep track of problems that recur and cause a serious problem. Those need to be addressed, but minor quirks and occasional misbehaviors don't necessarily need attention. Trust your employees to do the right thing and self-correct, and step in only when they don't take care of problems themselves.
Installing a hidden camera in your workplace is a very good way to protect your business against the most common problems that cost you money; theft and employee misconduct. Whether the theft is employees taking money from the register, time theft, slacking, or burglary, a hidden camera can help prevent it and identify the thieves.
Watching how your employees act when you're not around will also help you train them and correct their customer service skills to improve your business's bottom line. Using a tape as a teaching tool lets you address specific behaviors and show the employees how you want these situations handled in the future.
Many employees don't like the idea of being recorded or photographed at work, because they feel the boss is "out to get them." You will have to work with your employees to help them understand that you're not being vindictive or cruel, and that the camera is designed to help everyone, by making sure everyone is following the rules.
As an employer, you also have to follow rules; you can't put a hidden camera in a bathroom or other private place. You can use a hidden camera in any public area of your business, and it may be tempting to not tell employees they're being recorded. The problem with this is that when you have to confront behavior you've caught on tape, you also have to deal with an employee angry about being taped without their knowledge.
When you run a business, you have to make a lot of decisions that you never had to make as an employee. One of those is whether, and how, to use a hidden camera to protect and build your business. At times you may feel that if you don't use the camera, you don't know what's happening, but if you do, you risk alienating employees so much that they quit.
If you inform employees about the hidden camera, use it fairly and well, and take care to be fair and reasonable when you view the tapes and take action on behavior, you will find that using cameras is a better choice, for most businesses, than not using cameras.
If you use cameras to help your employees build their skills, you can create a better business, reduce your turnover, and keep customers coming back for your excellent service. This may not be your initial intent in setting up cameras to monitor your employees, but if you both reward good service and constructively correct bad behavior; you can groom your employees using the recordings.
When you think of ways to improve your business and help your employees better serve you and your customers, you may not automatically consider a hidden camera. After all, that's something you would more likely use to catch employees acting out and correct them, right? But a good employer knows that finding employees doing something right, and helping them change inappropriate behavior, works better than just catching misbehavior and firing people.
Your employees work for you, and in the end your behavior and treatment of them will determine their behavior and treatment of you. By using a hidden camera, you can help your employees correct themselves, weed out employees who just can't work in your environment, and build a better business for yourself, your employees and your customers.
John Trevor is a principal at Home-Spy-Shop.com, a leading purveyor of home surveillance and security devices including a state-of-the-art GPS Tracker, as well as hidden cameras for any needs. To find more information on business spy cameras, visit www.home-spy-shop.com
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