Go Ahead and Record Me at Work—Please!

I saw a piece on the NPR site last week on “How Secret Recordings Are Changing the Workplace,” and all I can say is: Please secretly tape me—and my co-workers—NOW!

I just finished a month-long binge of the superb FX drama, The Americans, so maybe that has affected my judgment, as it’s a spy thriller, but there are too many times I wish someone was hearing the same things I’m hearing because I know no one will believe me if I relate it to them.

In particular, I think back to a terrible meeting a couple years ago in which, as I’ve written before on this blog, it was inferred that I was the “tail wagging the dog” rather than an employee who showed leadership by taking charge of the publication I work on. That comment was followed by a rant by my manager that “This is a dying company. Look around at all the ‘gray hairs’ at this company—they’re just trying to stick it out until they get to retirement. I’ve been trying to retire for years.”

You have no idea how I wish the CEO of our company had secretly bugged that meeting!

I understand privacy concerns—to some extent. I wouldn’t want private conversations bugged, but I would be in favor of audio recordings in meetings, or maybe even videotaping of meetings. There are too many meetings in which outlandish, offensive comments are made, which the participants would deny, calling the person recounting the comments crazy. More importantly, it would be good to have an audio, or video, record of how meetings take place. Is there a recurrent person at your meetings who contributes little in the way of substance, but holds the floor with his big mouth for much of the time? Is there a person who offers great ideas, but isn’t assertive enough, and so finds herself shut down by others in the group with what usually turn out to be lesser ideas?

Recordings in the workplace, if handled judiciously, can force accountability, and can be used as a teaching tool. You can bring the recordings into performance reviews to show employees where they’re going wrong. Promises to complete tasks that are not fulfilled, or superb employees who are under-cutting themselves by not being assertive enough all could be caught on tape. You show promising, but timid, employees the video of themselves at a meeting, and explain where and how in that meeting they could have asserted themselves. Sometimes employees want to “lean in,” and just need a push in the right direction. A visual record of their actions can help you help them do that.

Sexual harassment, whether in one-on-one or group meetings, most likely would not happen—infamous Access Hollywood tape aside—if participants knew they were being videotaped. Or even if they didn’t know they were being videotaped—imagine a sexual harasser who thought he was having a private meeting with an employee and then was shocked to discover the company coming after him in a sting-like operation after he was caught on tape sexually harassing her. I’m not sure of the legality of that scenario, but it sure would be a great way of catching serial harassers!

Legal necessity may mean you have to inform employees that they are being taped, but even so, audio and video recordings in the workplace could have their place. No need to audio record or videotape breakrooms or the bathrooms (of course!), but work areas are fair game for workplace recordings of employee interactions. Similar to the dashboard cameras that are becoming more common on police cars, video can capture exactly what happened, rather than what the person/people in power said happened.

There have been times I have been faced with a lying manager, or one who conveniently doesn’t remember what he said/told me to do. Which brings me back to that horrible meeting two years ago. My now former-boss indignantly exclaimed, “That’s not true!” when I pointed out to our department head that he hadn’t given me a performance review in more than five years. I would have liked to have had audio, or video, proof from previous years, including conversations he had with the department head in which he said he didn’t see the point of giving me reviews since there was no additional money with which to reward me.

What do you think of workplace recordings of employees? Could they have a place in your office? How can audio and video recordings of employee interactions, such as at meetings, be used as a tool to improve workgroup and individual performance?

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