More and more small business owners are turning to private security agencies for help in screening potential employees and maintaining security - and efficiency - in the workplace.<p>Use of cameras and improved screening methods for employees is on the rise as a recent survey by Retail Management magazine reports an estimated $160 billion in employee time and lost merchandise is being "stolen" from small businesses each year.<p>"People won't steal or slack off if they know they're being watched," says Maggie Morgan, marketing supervisor of Sentry Surveillance in Kennesaw, Ga. "The average employee is productive 30 minutes out of an hour. They spend the rest of the time chatting, making personal telephone calls, getting something to drink, or going to the restroom."<p>Sentry is one of many companies across the country that provides security cameras for small and medium sized businesses. Morgan says the company's preferred method is to implement a security system of "external" cameras - cameras placed in full view so that employees are aware of their presence.<p>Forty percent of the small businesses in America today use video surveillance to monitor their workers, according to NBC Nightly News.<p>As in the case of Morgan's company, most of these are external cameras, mounted in the open and recording all activity in the workplace during the course of the day. Many are in use in grocery or liquor stores and fast food franchises. Most double as in-house security cameras equally likely to record the odd late-night store holdup as an act of employee pilferage.<p>Others are used in factory settings or businesses where a large number of employees are at work, the cameras grinding on 24-hours a day and used to monitor employee traffic during the course of a shift.~<p>Although employees tend to regard any decision to bring cameras into the workplace as intrusive, experts say they work.<p>"We guarantee our clients an increase in individual employee productivity by 15 minutes a day," Morgan says, adding that management needs to enforce the belief that the tapes are watched regularly in order for them to be effective. Many companies remain hesitant to even raise the issue of cameras in the workplace, much less actually proceed and have the devices installed. One security expert suggests that the issue of camera surveillance can be avoided entirely when a company adopts a comprehensive policy of background checks for new employees.<p>"When employers have to implement surveillance cameras to the workplace it tells me they're trying to recapture lost territory," says Kit Fremin, CEO of Background Check International (BCI) in Temecula, Calif. "A quick background check avoids this problem; plus working under the scope of camera lens is just uncomfortable." <p>Workplace security experts say background checks for all new hires increase an employer's chances of acquiring the most qualified, honest and dependable employees.<p>Previously unknown factors such as a prior criminal history, a poor driving record or a proven inability to handle large sums of money responsibly can be easily pinpointed, Fremin says.<p>BCI is just one of many services providing employment screening background checks from criminal, civil, federal records, previous employment verification, salary, education and credit information available to those in the know.<p>"Our rapid access to a wide range of crucial information gives employers a prompt, thorough, and economical means of protecting their business," Fremin says. "I think if employers screen their prospect employees thoroughly, there would never be a reason to apply surveillance cameras in the workplace."