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The quest for work/life balance isn’t a new drama, and with more companies pushing a flexible workplace model fueled by mobile technology that will only increase. But here’s a new wrinkle in the setting boundaries battle: employers using wearables to monitor their employees.

A recent CBC News article draws attention to this new trend of companies using wearable technology like Jawbone wristbands to gather data from employees such as steps walked and sleep patterns. The idea is to share the data with fellow employees to encourage individual progress towards fitness goals, but it does also raise troubling privacy considerations. Businesses also feel the data could lead to improved employee performance.

Third-party anonymization of data would address some of the privacy considerations, but still, at least one expert one expert still feels it’s too much Orwell for not much gain, by either the employee or the employer.

“It becomes too Orwellian,” Kenneth Goh, a professor of organizational behaviour at Western University’s Ivey Business School, told CBC News. “There have been studies to show that workers actually thrive when they have some degree of privacy. They do more trial-and-error learning, they’re more willing to make mistakes in private.”

Goh goes on to mention the risks of hacking, corporate espionage and identity theft.

So if you want to give all your employees a Fitbit, that’s great. But maybe let them decide what information to share, and with whom.

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  • Sheeva

    First, NO, NO WAY IN H^&%L is an HR department qualified to understand an individual’s health. It’s bad enough that corporations through HR have squeezed out any health benefits/coverage to the most minimum, if any, costs to themselves but to have them now tell you you’re not fit to work because you’re a little out of breath or a couple of pounds overweight . . . hmmmm?

    Second, who owns the data? If the corporation (sic HR) stores it then what’s to prevent them from sending it to ALL insurance firms – blacklisting an individual for example? If corporations can’t protect their own business data why should they collect health data?

    No. No matter how bad we need jobs, this is NOT the right thing to do – Don’t allow THEM to control YOU.

    Orwell not withstanding this is draconian and totalitarian at the least and WE are NOT going to “play along”. Are we?

  • Stuntman06

    If employers want to encourage employees to be healthier, perhaps they should provide employees with funding to hire personal trainers, nutritionists, etc. to help improve their health. The employee is then free to work with these professionals and perhaps use wearable technology to monitor their health throughout the day and night. The professionals can then use data obtained through this wearable technology to make recommendations on how the employee can improve his or her health. The employer does not get any access to the employee’s health information.