Why do we Hate our own Voices in the Workplace?

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In a world of constant data collection and recording, why do we still resist voice and video recording in the workplace? In 2017, our workplaces are overflowing with devices capable of capture but there is a step that we are refusing to take.

There is a confidence around digitisation in the workplace. The transference of the analogue, the tangible, the paper to computer files feels almost irresistible. We have digitised our HR personnel files, our customer records and management systems. We have come to expect the online form or website and baulk at the idea that we would need to ‘fill in’ a piece of paper and send it somewhere else in physical space.

But look into the boardroom, the meeting room, the formal disciplinary hearing or investigation, and we see something different. It is these set piece workplace events that are keeping the notebook and biro manufacturers in business. It is not usual to see multiple people creating multiple (but necessarily similar?) paper notes. The irony is that this activity is on the surface about creating a record, but a plurality of records prevents that from happening. I am reminded of the proverb that a man with a watch knows the time, but a man with two watches is never sure.

You may argue that people in your workplace don’t hold on to pen and paper – that they use their iPad, laptop or other device to keep track of meeting papers and notes. I’m sure that’s right – but aren’t they doing the same thing? They are creating partial records when a comprehensive, indisputable record would be much easier to create.

So what would the reaction be if you proposed to record audio (with or without video) of your formal HR hearings, interviews, board meetings, executive team decisions, or other workplace events? Would people behave differently? Would they feel that this somehow got in the way? Is it simply that people don’t like to be recorded?

Because the truth is that we are recorded all the time. From the body worn camera of the ticket inspector and security guard, to CCTV, to Persicope, to Facebook Live. Others are creating recordings of us all the time – so why not in the workplace? Why are we comfortable with others making written records of what we say but not audio records? Wouldn’t it be far easier to simply email employment tribunal judges a video of the disciplinary hearing rather than a convoluted written and spoken account of various conflicting recollections?

I wonder if there is something about control – of wanting to be able to control when our voice is being heard and when it isn’t. Do we worry that an audio recording somehow creates an alternative being who can be used against us? Do we fear that our own voice and arguments could somehow be turned on us?

Next time you are in a meeting at work – particularly something like a grievance or disciplinary hearing – take a moment to think through how easy it would be to create a video or audio recording for ease of recall and review by others if needed. If you don’t think it would be possible for reasons other than technical ones, I would love to know what they are.

The reality is that the potential for covert recordings has exploded. From smart phone apps that create recordings of your phone calls, to hi-res audio recorders and wearable tech (including smart glasses) we will soon have no way of knowing if a recording is being made or not. Perhaps this will finally force us to face up to whatever our issue is with hearing our own voices.

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