Should HR really be using wearables to monitor employee heart rates?

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.

Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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