Adjusting an Employee’s Workload Based on Brain Activity

You know how sometimes you feel like your brain is going to explode because of all the crap you are dealing with? There are numerous jobs that have that kind of stress. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a device that would easily read brain activity and adjust workloads to help relieve that stress? Well such a device exists. Learn why some say adjusting your employee’s workload based on brain activity would be benefical in the workplace.

Measuring Your Employee’s Workload

The Device

According to the Boston Globe such a device has been created by two researchers in Boston at Tufts University’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab. The original idea was to create a way to monitor the work of air traffic controllers who work under some of the most stressful conditions of any job. According to the article by Callum Bochers,

“Computer scientist Robert Jacob and biomedical engineer Sergio Fantini are working on a headband to read brain activity, enabling a computer to determine whether the wearer is bored, fatigued, or sharp.”

Knowing this would allow the computer or a supervisor switch the workload of an employee who was overworked to one who was better able to handle the additional work.

Light absorption

The device, which is currently a clunky headband connected to a computer by two cables, works on the principle of how much light the brain is absorbing. The more active a brain is the more light it absorbs. The headband emits light into the forehead of the wearer. The prefrontal cortex of an active or overworked brain will absorb more light than a brain working at a slower or less stressful pace. The light emitted is equivalent sunlight and not harmful to the wearer at all. According to Bochers,

“The technique for analyzing and acting upon brain activity is called functional near infrared spectroscopy, or fNIRS. A row of small red lights embedded in the headband beams light waves through the skull …A computer connected to the headband cannot literally read the wearer’s mind, but it can gauge the person’s level of mental exertion by measuring the amount of light absorbed by the brain.”

A wide array of jobs

While this was created with air traffic controllers in mind the technology could be applied to any number of jobs that require high attention but may produce attention issues. In addition the researchers have also experimented with musical practice by introducing complexity to melodies as practice proceeded. They even suggest that the headband could be fitted with electrodes that could provide stimulation in addition to just reading brain activity.

The possible uses for such a device could be pretty broad. It could be used to make many jobs safer by noting when boredom or fatigue set in and shifting work to someone else who was more alert. What types of jobs in your workplace would be helped by such a device? They did find that in simulations people practicing air traffic control were 35% more effective when wearing the device. How would you like to be able to increase productivity by 35%?


For you entrepreneurs the researchers have no interest in taking their device to the marketplace. They are open to someone taking this to the market? Anyone game?

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Mike Haberman

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, speaker, writer of HR Observations, and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc. After over 30 years in HR he got tired of the past and focuses here on the Future of HR. Connect with Mike.


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