It’s not just phones and laptops we’re now bringing to the office: A boom in wearable technology such as the popular Fitbit has created a growing trend in workplace health tracking – research and consulting firm ABI Research predicts that by 2020, 44 million health-tracking devices will be used by employer wellness plans in the US alone.
Why companies spy
While it’s easy to assume workplace monitoring procedures are keeping tabs on your minute-by-minute activity should your actions need to be used against you, the companies behind these devices say tracking is aimed at improving efficiency, protection and productivity.
For instance, OccupEye’s sensors can’t determine who is sitting at a certain desk or what they are doing. Instead, Neil Steele, who heads sales and marketing at Cad-Capture, OccupEye’s parent company, says its tech aims to help businesses ensure they are “utilising real-estate effectively.” According to Steele, the sensors are useful for firms that implement a hot-desk programme, where employees have no assigned workspace.
For many firms, accessing emails and telephone conversations acts as protection – seeing their employees’ communications can help them prevent conflicts of interest, insider trading, public sharing of sensitive information or other scenarios that could dent the company’s reputation. Reputation protection, after all, can be viewed as revenue protection – global professional services firm Deloitte found that 41% of firms experience revenue loss when suffering damage to the brand’s name.
And then there’s productivity. Tracking employees not only helps “preserve a company reputation regarding who they employ [but also] to ensure employees are doing what they should be work-wise,” says Kirsten Smith, an HR consultant for UK-based face2faceHR.
But does it work?
Improving employee productivity through monitoring requires a thoughtful and tailored approach, as researchers in the US found with a study published last year. The study aimed to see if monitoring would improve hospital caregivers’ compliance with handwashing rules. Handwashing was lagging as workers neared the end of their shifts.
Tracking 5,200 caregivers at 42 hospitals over three years, the researchers found that, under monitoring, the rate of hand washing increased for the first two years, before falling back once monitoring eased. When the monitoring was removed, the hand-washing rate fell below the pre-monitoring levels.