Over the past few weeks, I’ve written articles on employee engagement – how we’re moving from a talent culture to a people culture and about apps that attempt to gauge employee mood. Recently, however, CBC/Radio-Canada posted an article that took this concept much further. They reported on wearable technologies at work that measure employee engagement, mood, and performance. While perhaps attractive to some larger companies, I found the need to monitor employees in this way troubling.
The article begins by describing a team from Deloitte that was moving from a cubicle setting to a more open space. To attempt to gauge levels of satisfaction and mood, they wore badges that collected data from microphones to track changes in tone of voice and accelerometers to track how often employees pushed away from their desks.
In the Deloitte example in the article, the employees volunteered for the study, but Humanyze, the company that manufactures the badges, envisions a time in the not to distant future when the devices will become ubiquitous.
And Deloitte isn’t alone. Hitachi employees are outfitted with a device that collects data 50 times per second to help gauge “happiness of the group.” Volometrix helps large companies like Boeing, Facebook, Qualcomm, and Seagate gather information from employees’ address and subject fields of email and calendar appointments to “chart how workers are spending their time and with whom.”
My concern is that some of these products turn employees into lab rats for the sake of the “company good.” Some compare these devices to exercise products like Fitbits, but the benefit of Fitbits is that you measure your own movement and presumably your own progress toward some personal goal. Turning the goal from personal to team means each person is positioned against the other, perhaps with the goal of benefiting the team.
When I explained the concept of these products to a colleague, he told me they sound like the ankle bracelets that monitor felons given home arrest.
Will products like these increase efficiency? Perhaps. But only among those employees willing to wear one. The companies that use them may end up with an entirely different problem: hiring.