Lovewell’s Logic: Where should the boundaries lie for wearable technology?

This week, I’ve been following the progress of the Financial Times’ economics correspondent Sarah O’Connor’s experiment with wearable technology in the workplace.

For two weeks, she will be kitted out with gadgets in a bid to determine whether the personal data these generate is actually useful to managers, as well as the impact on employees’ lives.

Debbie Lovewell, deputy editor, Employee Benefits

There is no doubt about it that wearable technology is set to become more common among members of a workforce, particularly as devices begin to decrease in price.

And there is no arguing with the fact that the data generated from such devices can help both employers and insurers to better manage the costs associated with employee health and wellbeing.

According to The wearable future report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), employees also recognise the benefits of using wearable technology in the workplace. More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents said an important benefit of wearable technology is its potential to make them more efficient and more productive at work, while 70% expected their workplace to permit the use of wearable technology, and 46% thought their employer should fund wearable technology, rather than a bring-your-own-device model.

But, in my view, any organisation looking to adopt wearable technology as an employee management tool, must first ask questions about where employers’ responsibilities and rights end and employees’ rights to a private life begin.

The PWC research also found that 82% of respondents were concerned that wearable technology will invade their privacy

I don’t dispute the benefits of tracking an individual’s health and wellbeing levels, particularly if these begin to impact their productivity at work, or mean that an employer is able to offer much-needed support.

But I don’t know how comfortable I’d be with my employer knowing how much sleep I’d got the previous night or the fact I just couldn’t resist that second slice of cake. And, while I’d never dream of turning up to work with a massive hangover, I wouldn’t be able to help but wonder if I was silently being judged for catching up with a friend over a glass or two (or three!) of wine the previous evening.

As long as there are clear boundaries set in advance about how the data generated will be used though, I do believe this is the future of workplace health and wellbeing strategies.

Sign up to our newsletters

Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

I’ll be interested to see the final results of the FT’s experiment. 

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell