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Research Review: Quality of Work Life for Bank Guards

There has long been a gap between security researchers and security practitioners. One of the goals of research is to inform on current practices with the intent of improving them. In turn, practice should also inform on theory. There is no point in implementing security countermeasures if they do not improve the security profile of an organization.

Security guard employee retention is an industry issue the world over. Quality of work life directly impacts employee retention. Researchers and security industry practitioners have long been aware of this issue. In “Quality of work life of bank security guards in Brazil: a research note,” published in Security Journal in January 2019, written by André Luís Policani Freitas and Felipe Ramos Maciel, the authors added to the growing body of knowledge on this issue.

Freitas and Maciel conducted a case study in 43 bank branches in the Brazilian city of Campos dos Goytacazes to determine the most important aspects of what security guards considered in evaluating their quality of work life (QWL). These QWL factors included renumeration, career growth, equipment weight, and non-compliance with safety standards. To anyone familiar with the uniformed guard industry, these factors should not come as a surprise.

Quality of work life directly impacts employee retention.

The study authors identified several Brazilian laws and government decrees implemented since 2012 that were designed to address QWL, including collective labor agreements stipulating salaries, standards around mandatory fitness, the rights of bank security guards concerning uniforms, weapons and training, and financial institution requirements to hire security personnel for protection.

Despite—or perhaps because of—these laws, there has been an explosive growth in illegal security companies competing for business with more than 4,000 companies and 600,000 workers in 2014, the researchers reported. In 2017, research identified also identified that for every registered security company, there was one un-registered company and for every licensed guard there were three unlicensed guards, the report said. Due to lack of government enforcement capabilities, many illegal organizations operate by providing services at a reduced price, thereby undercutting legitimate security providers.

How are the research findings applicable to non-banking security operations outside of Brazil? For starters, the foundation of a well-run, effective, and efficient guard-based security program is a stable and well-trained department. Regarding the QWL issues previously identified, guards who responded to the survey listed unfair salaries as a main reason for leaving.

Respondents identified there was a disconnect between what they were expected to do with the salaries they received. According to the research, this disconnect included job risk versus salary (given the high number of bank robberies in the country—2,082 attacks on banks in 2016), instability in employment, stress caused by bank robberies, lack of career growth, stress caused by bank customers, contradiction in guidelines between the security company and the banking institution, salary compatibility when compared with guards from other sectors, equipment weight, receiving orders that contradict security standards, and poor benefits. 

The security guards surveyed also considered professional growth to an important issue as they were not presented with the opportunity to grow within their careers, so they moved on to those occupations with growth opportunities.

The disrespect and verbal abuse directed at them by members of the public caused the guards to rethink their occupation.

Guards said that the stress caused by the danger of their jobs had a significant impact on their health and personal life. Substandard equipment such as uniforms, footwear, and ballistic vests caused them physical and mental stress partly due to weight—which led to considerable fatigue, as well as lack of protection. Finally, the disrespect and verbal abuse directed at them by members of the public caused the guards to rethink their occupation.

These factors are prevalent in most, if not all, uniformed security jobs regardless of the site or country. Those responsible for managing uniformed personnel should strongly consider these factors in the departments they are managing and seek to improve them if they are found lacking.

The argument is often made that there is not enough money to do security properly, but the very real hidden costs of employee turnover and poor security practices suggest that the money can be made up. It is as simple as identifying the cost of a new hire, reducing the turnover, and then setting that money aside to put into increased salaries, uniforms, and training. QWL issues are being addressed by those employers that care about their employees. As the war for talent increases, those companies that do not care about their employees will likely lose them—leading to increased costs and risk profiles.

The conclusions arrived at in this review are the opinion of the author and are based on his experience and education. Research findings in one area may not translate into similar findings in another. Individual readers may find different takeaways from research reports, and hopefully these explorations encourage new lines of thought.


Dr. Glen Kitteringham, CPP, M.Sc., has worked in the security industry since 1990. He holds a doctorate in security risk management from the University of Portsmouth and a master’s degree in security and crime risk management from the University of Leicester. He is president of Kitteringham Security Group Inc., consulting with companies around the globe. Kitteringham holds an adjunct instructor position at the Justice Institute of British Columbia where he teaches security and emergency management courses. He has been incorporating a variety of research results into his security management and consulting services for more than 25 years.