WEARABLES IN THE WORKPLACE01.09.2017
As the health and fitness industry continues to grow, wearable technology has become more fashionable with research predicting by 2020 the industry will be worth $34 billion. With this in mind, more companies are providing staff with free wearables to generate information about their daily steps, heart rate and even stress levels. Companies can use this data to increase staff productivity and improve morale. However, do employees know how their data is being used and what risks are associated with this?
Last year over 200 million employees were given free wearables by their companies and according to ABI Research this number is due to rise to over 500m by 2021. There’s a range of reasons companies give staff free wearables, the main advantage is related to health and wellness which is currently a hot topic in the workplace. By giving employees fitness trackers companies can see if staff are taking regular breaks from their desk, analyse their sleeping patterns and find out what exercise they’re doing outside the office. All of which have a direct link to productivity. Companies can use this data in a range of ways, for example; introduce fitness incentives to encourage employees to be more active outside the office, change working hours to improve staff sleep patterns and implement fitness breaks to ensure staff are having the recommended ten minutes break every hour.
Research from accounting firm PwC suggests 65% of adults believe technology has a real role to play in their health and wellbeing. However, within the workplace 38% of people don’t trust their employer to use data collected from wearable technology to benefit employees. PwC’s research also highlights a strong divide between age groups with 73% of millennials believing their employer should be involved in their health and wellbeing compared to 70% of over 55’s rejecting the idea of wearables in the workplace all together.
One of the most publicised examples of wearables in the workplace was in 2015 when Hitachi designed a wearable ‘name tag.’ The badge was designed to monitor employee’s conscious and unconscious body movements as well as their working activities. It was initially tested by 600 staff from their sales and marketing team and generated behavioural data which was used to create personalised advice for each employee to increase their happiness. Staff were sent daily ‘happiness advice’ which could be accessed via mobile phones or tablets. Hitachi plan to use this data and new technology advancements to take this concept to the next level and provide this service to organisations worldwide.
Whilst research suggests more companies are adopting wearables in the workplace there are still risks associated with this. Legislations around employee wearables are very vague, however, for companies who break the rules, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation predicts fines of up to 4% of a company’s annual turnover or €20m, (whichever is greater). However, the regulation will not be enforced until May 2018, and with Britain exiting the EU this it less clear whether it would affect UK employers.
With employees becoming savvier about their personal data, for this trend to continue companies need to be more transparent about how they plan to use data from wearables and provide better communication about how it will benefit employees. With growing legislation around wearables in the workplace a better alternative is to encourage employees to bring their own devise into work and make fitness competitions and sharing data optional. This is safer for companies and a lot more cost effective, at least until technology continues to develop and legislation is defined.
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