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Wearables, accessories like smart watches and fitness trackers, are a big part of my life. I have the first generation Fitbit and I pair that regularly with the My Fitness Pal app which helps me track what I eat and how many calories I burn. Unfortunately, my first generation Fitbit looks pretty slow considering the pace of change in this area. New wearable technology, like the Apple Watch, tracks your pulse and heartrate and may someday track your glucose level.
These devices have far greater implications than the ability to tell me how many calories I burned today. As an HR pro, if you aren’t already looking at these you should be:
- Wearables are ideal for employees on the go – those in entertainment, medical or other support fields can access email and other work-related information from anywhere.
- Motivate employees to get and stay healthy. In one case a man proceeded to the hospital after his Apple Watch alerted him that his pulse was double his normal rate; this prevented a full heart attack.
- Track employee movement and actions. In companies with trade secrets you can restrict access with a touch of a button. Or you can use these trackers to monitor the health of your warehouse workers. Are they working safe? Is their pulse or heart rate abnormally high? Are they taking breaks?
Those are some great benefits but the paranoid, tinfoil -hat- wearer in me gets a little shaky when I think about how these technologies can be used for the wrong reasons. There are at least three big concerns I see: security, privacy and ethics. Let’s discuss a little more in-depth:
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Security. Your employee who walks the casino floor or works trade shows or moves amongst floors at the hospital now has access to email and text messages. That’s a great thing right? Yes. In theory. But it can also lead to issues with patient/customer confidentiality. It’s very easy to snap a picture of a confidential document or take incriminating photos from a smart phone or smart watch.
There is also the distraction issue. If your nurse is trying to setup an IV but continues to get notifications from their smart watch, the nurse is at risk of making a mistake that can put a patient’s life at risk.
Privacy. Employers sometimes give out fitness trackers or reimburse the costs. What if they decided to start monitoring those trackers and “punish” you for eating too many donuts last week when they see your glucose levels went up? Or what if your company saw that you stopped working out in June and your health insurance costs went up in November? No one is doing this yet, but it could certainly happen. Where does a company draw the line?
Ethics. Let’s say you have a warehouse worker whose productivity is slowing down. Is it because they are lazy or because they are experiencing back problems? In the past you might have had a discussion about their slower productivity but what if they have a wearable that shows you their productivity slowdown is paired with a higher pulse and heart rate?
What about retina scanners employees use to gain access to restricted areas? What if those scanners detect the early signs of diabetes? Looking at the data, do you tell them it’s possibly a sign of diabetes?
The ethics and privacy concerns lead to a bigger question of how to obtain employee consent to view and use private information. For the cause of lower health insurance premiums many employees will willingly give up their right to privacy…. but are they truly, willingly giving up that right? Some may argue that lower heath care premiums are coercive or the fact that the employer will have the data itself is co-receive and therefore employees can’t willingly enter into an agreement.
Throughout my research on the state of wearables I found two common threads: one is that s technology will save the world, Chloe will be able to schedule her meetings at her most productive time! The other thread is that this is a very Orwellian, tin-hat, end to the concept of employee privacy.
I don’t think either view is 100% accurate. There is enormous potential to better our individual lives and our employee lives but this technology is very new and we have to be careful that we do not over reach into areas that employers have no business getting involved in.