According to Splinter, Walmart has patented a new technology “meant to monitor employee productivity via audio surveillance of checkout counters.” Called “listening to the frontend,” the technology was designed to boost employee efficiency through sound monitoring. The goal of the technology is to indicate how long lines are, how many bags are being used, and conversations between employees and customers.
For the time being, the “listening to the frontend” technolog” is just a patent, and it’s unclear whether Walmart will develop it, Splinter says. It does, however, show that the retail giant is trying to keep pace with Amazon and other competitors: “Walmart is following in Amazon’s footsteps when it comes to finding new and inventive methods of invasive employee surveillance.”
Pulling from BuzzFeed, Splinter says that Walmart’s surveillance system “would use a series of sensors in the cashier area to collect audio data – everything from ‘beeps’ to ‘rustling noises’ to ‘conversations between guests and an employee stationed at the terminal.’ It would then analyze this information and use it to calculate various ‘performance metrics’ for the employee.”
Decision makers might consider the downside of surveillance:
While Walmart’s intention might be to improve employee efficiency, Splinter suggests that the solution might create a “Big Brother” effect, especially as the technology records conversations between employees and customers, and other employees.
Plus, Splinter says that the surveillance system could open doors to possible abuse, or inappropriate use. For example, if a cashier is being too friendly and engaging in a conversation with a customer, are they at risk for being penalized because they are causing the cash register line to grow?
Finally, Splinter says that surveillance technology like this can have a negative psychological impact on employees, worsen employee productivity, and create rifts between employees and bosses. “It tends to increase resistance from employees towards management, who feel, rightly, that they’re in an oppositional relationship.”