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Watch out – wearable technology is here

Hi-tech watches are just the beginning, but what a start! Now you can improve your health by monitoring every step you take, and every moment you sleep.

That’s fine if you’re a sports fanatic and it’s voluntary. It’s fine if you are choosing to improve your health. But in the world of management, ethics are now a valid concern.

Should employers be allowed to track every detail of employees’ productivity, as Tesco does in its distribution centre in Ireland? When will companies start tracking people’s sleep and drinking habits too, outside work, with incentives to comply? After all, you can already lower your insurance premiums as a young driver if you accept telematics (via a GPS tracking device). Now BP will pay $1,000 towards health insurance if you wear a device and hit targets.

These technologies won’t just be for monitoring. They have evolved over 50 years in military and other applications, focused on performance enhancement as well as behaviour change.

Wellness programmes at work could become performance programmes. Small-scale research already finds an 8% productivity gain from wearable technology.

Our performance is impacted daily by the technology in our pockets. People consult their phones on average more than 150 times per day (200+ in the UK), so every software update in the way phones are accessed will impact our efficiency 150 times daily. Then the Google Glass experiment demonstrated hands-free control and even augmented reality. Employers: pay close attention, for security reasons too. Bugging devices are now on every employee.

As with most advances in science and technology, caution is wise, but fear is not the best guide. There will be huge gains for individuals and organisations that experiment (as 29% of UK companies are). But the wise will focus as much on workplace trust as on the latest tech.

It’s here: Wearable Tech.


Regarding wearable tech and the ethical question of should employers monitor employee activity:
– The assertion is that, by monitoring employee activity, employers can increase productivity
– That is true only if the employee’s job can be perfectly and completely described.
– In today’s economy where creativity and innovation are critical to corporate survival, the assumption that employees’ jobs can be perfectly delineated is wrong
– If, however, an employee (say Fred) has a job that can be completely and accurately described, why is Fred not being replaced by a machine?
– So, if an employer decides to monitor employee activity for the purpose of increasing productivity, they risk losing innovation and creativity — I will assert that such a loss would overwhelm any increase in productivity
– As human beings, we have an unalienable (sorry for the Yank term) right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (hit o’ the hat to T. Jefferson). If I choose to pursue a life style (away from work) that entails health and/or safety risks, then I should be free to do that. Given the Gordian Knot binding health insurance to employment, there should be an approach that ensures that my costs for health insurance include costs associated with my life style decisions (say base jumping and consuming a fifth of single malt every day (which is the only way that I, personally, would ever jump off a cliff wearing a parachute)). At the same time, my employer’s costs of health insurance for me should include any costs incurred as a result of decisions made by the employer.

I also think that employee monitoring, wearable tech and giving up control are all bound together. If you do the hard thinking, you could envision liberating employees, not monitoring them and creating an environment where they are exceptionally productive, innovative and creative. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Written by Guy Higgins, May 22, 2015

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