Big Brother is Watching: How Tight a Rein Should You Keep on Your Employees?

Alexandra Levit, People Results
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Last summer, I wrote about a Rackspace/University of London study that assessed productivity levels in 120 employees outfitted with wearable monitoring technology. The participants were equipped with one of the three devices – the GENEActiv high-velocity accelerometer wristband, which measures movement and activity; the NeuroSky Mindwave portable biosensor EEG, which monitors brain activity; and the LUMOback posture and activity coach, which issues a pulse to remind its wearer to sit up straight. Participant productivity jumped 8.5 percent and job satisfaction climbed 3.5 percent as a result of the monitoring.

Employee monitoring is increasing in popularity, and the reason goes beyond productivity gains and wider availability of Internet of things-related technology. Compliance with regulations such as the Affordable Care Act now involves understanding exactly how many hours full-time and part-time employees are working so that organizations can accurately classify them and determine benefit eligibility.

In a recent article in Harper’s Magazine, Esther Kaplan investigated the $30 billion telematics industry. Telematics is essentially hardware and software that facilitates real-time employee monitoring. Shipping conglomerate UPS, for example, uses handheld delivery information acquisition devices (DIADs) to track delivery times, speed, stop times, and seat-belt use. When a UPS driver pulls into a delivery location, scans a package, and has the customer sign for it, the DIAD records the time, location and wait and sends the data to the driver’s supervisor. Although this DIAD system was introduced to UPS employees as a safety measure, the devices have saved the company millions in productivity and efficiency gains.

Not surprisingly, Fox News’ subsidiary Breitbart.com is not thrilled about what it perceives as a very Big Brother type of development, but author Chriss Street does bring up some valid reservations.

Popular IoT devices like Apple’s Watch allow employers to break down every worker task to eliminate all un-essential movements, and then use the right tools, training and incentives to achieve optimum workflow productivity. “By giving their employees a Watch, managers are observing and judging every moment of employees’ working lives, and this information could be used to dump them,” Street said.

He also quoted philosopher Julian Baggini, who just commented on the release of the Watch in The Guardian: “Smart watches encourage a kind of auto-instrumentalization in which we treat ourselves as machines to be well-oiled, serviced and working at maximum efficiency.”

But employees are not robots, so should they be evaluated as such? Is your organization using telematics? Do the benefits outweigh any moral or ethical discomfort?

Take a look at these 15 ways you can take your employees further.

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