The surveillance society – at your local corner shop

Government proposals for identity cards and suggestions from senior police officers that national DNA and fingerprint databases would help to cut crime have led some to warn of the dangers of a surveillance society. But such wishy-washy liberal concerns don’t seem to carry much weight at the Budgens and Costcutter retail chains. They have been piloting a scheme to add fingerprints to their staff databases to validate employees’ working time. When clocking on and off, people are required to use fingerprint recognition terminals to prove that they are actually present. This prevents people getting workmates to clock in and out for them to cover up unauthorised absences. One owner of two convenience stores claims that this will save him £10,000 a year.

Now I know nothing about managing a shop. Retail is one of the few sectors in which I have never worked, so I could be talking rubbish here. However, I would have thought a manager of a small shop would know whether or not people had turned up for work. The two shops in the above example employ 25 people. Take away two shop managers and allowing for shifts, you probably only have a maximum of six or seven people on duty in the shops at any one time. Surely the manager would know if someone hadn’t turned up or had come in late. Or perhaps the real reason for this measure is that the owners don’t trust the managers.

In which case, how can they be sure that, when people do show up for work, they are not just messing around and doing the bare minimum? Proving that people were at work for a given period by using fingerprint records doesn’t tell you what they were actually doing. If you can’t trust that manager to manage attendance, how can you trust him to manage performance?

Aside from the ethical issues, this idea looks like one of those that seems good on paper but doesn’t get to the route of the problem in the company. If you need to monitor your staff centrally, using fingerprint recognition, what the hell are your managers doing?

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2 Responses to The surveillance society – at your local corner shop

  1. hrwench says:

    The thing with retail is the managers are usually performing the same duties as their employees for a large part of their day (helping customers, cash register duties, etc) so it really is hard to keep track of everyone (especially when schedules change weekly).

    I totally understand that in certain places, “buddy punching” is a big problem. But the finger print and eye-scan type time clocks freak me out. There has got to be a better and less personally intrusive way.

  2. Susan Mix says:

    Maybe if they took the money spent on surveillance and distributed it to the employees they might buy a little loyalty. Respect has to be earned – there were teachers who could leave the room and everyone stayed quiet but they were rare.

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