United Kingdom

Wearable technology could improve productivity despite staff reservations

June 2017


Workplace wearables can help increase productivity and staff engagement, a third of employee respondents to a survey have claimed.

A significant proportion of the 1,000 employees polled by search engine firm Office Genie said using wearable technology in the workplace improved productivity levels, would help monitor stress and support those suffering from ill-health.

A further 41 per cent cited health benefits from using wearable technology and 43 per cent said such interventions could improve employee wellness. Over half of those polled agreed that wearable technology is ‘beneficial' to the workplace, including those in both younger and older age groups.

Just over a third of respondents said they'd prefer to use wearables which were provided by the employer compared to just 21 per cent who would be happy to use it for both professional and personal use.

However, many respondents also voiced concerns over the ethical implications of the use of wearables, with 49 per cent worrying about negative effects on stress levels, 58 per cent voicing concerns about data protection and privacy issues and 67 per cent fearing wearables could result in an unnecessary surveillance culture.

Commenting on the research, Peter Ames, head of strategy at Office Genie advised employers to listen to the concerns of staff and ensure all were clear on the legitimate reasons behind the introduction of wearables.

In particular, Ames recommended creating a document which informed staff of the different data sets which would be accessible to employers to help reduce fears of ‘snooping bosses'.

"These concerns aside, workplace wearables have been linked to improved productivity and job satisfaction as well as health benefits," he commented.

But Jerry Edmondson, Strategic Communication & Engagement Proposition Leader at Aon Employee Benefits warned that whilst wearable technology may be a great idea for some organisations, where trust and engagement are already high, it could ‘go down like a lead balloon' elsewhere.

"Giving staff freebies to build engagement sounds like a good idea but in this context, wearable technology can be a double-edged sword," he said. "Real employee engagement is built on trust, which is both difficult to build and easy to damage."

According to CityAM, employers provided over 200m wearable devices to staff during 2016 to help manage health issues. Writing in the publication, Clare Gilroy-Scott, solicitor at Goodman Derri described wearables as a ‘useful tool' to tackle absenteeism costs and increased engagement, but warned that overcoming ‘inherent distrust' could be the biggest hurdle for employers.

Edmondson added: "Employee wellbeing is absolutely a hot topic and there are signs that employer initiatives to help manage staff health issues are leading well where employer-employee relationships are already strong. In such an environment, clear and transparent communications will help address any residual concerns around wearable technology.

"But employers take note: it's hard to imagine this being the case where an organisation already has a history of workforce relations issues. In such circumstances, a more profound engagement strategy will be needed before the kind of benefits from wearable technology cited here are likely to manifest."



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