Should Companies use Employees’ Wearable Data?

According to a recent survey, 25% of employees wear a device that tracks their fitness. And over 2/3 of them own a smartphone, which are capable of tracking fitness. So what can an employer do with all that data? Or – should the employer even have access to it?

Let’s start with some areas where this would be helpful to both employees and employers.

Safety – if you could tell when employees got critically overheated or had a heartbeat that was exceeding a maximum limit, you could have them rest, possibly avoiding a stroke or heart attack. Or prevent having them pass out and get themselves or others injured. This would especially apply to those driving a car, truck, forklift or other vehicle.

Progress towards health goals – let’s say you have a weight loss campaign in progress. Wouldn’t it be handy to know who is – and isn’t – making progress on their goals?

Overall health metrics – by tracking heart rate, blood pressure and glucose (coming soon), a good app will be able to predict when an employee is heading towards trouble, giving you both time to intervene and prevent a bad event.

When put this way, these concepts all seem to be win-win for the employee and employer. But let’s take a look at some that may not be.

Bias predictions – If a manager sees that an employee only got four hours of sleep last night, he might not let her come to work thinking that she’s at a higher risk for injury. Or if he notices that two co-workers tend to be in the same place at the same time (using the built-in GPS), he could draw completely wrong conclusions.

Inappropriate actions – A manager may decide to fire employees who have high blood pressure or glucose simply to save on health insurance costs.

So there are clearly benefits and risks. I think the good points clearly outweigh the downsides, so the answer is to establish rules and guidelines that companies must adhere to. These could be voluntary, regulations or some type of law if need be.

The benefits of companies and their employees working together using these new technologies will be enormous. In mitigating bad health outcomes alone, the country will save billions of dollars and millions of hours of lost work and needless suffering. Availability of employees’ health data is a trend that’s here to stay. Companies need to start debating how and when to use the information for the benefit of all, while finding ways to not allow misuse.

Frank Kenna III
June 9, 2016

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