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Should You Wear an Activity Tracker at Work?

Topics: Work Culture

As more workplaces offer or incentivize wearing activity trackers, is the workplace becoming too much Big Brother and not enough, maybe, friendly cousin you spend time with in the summer? Sometimes wearables can be helpful, starting with the step-counter on your wrist, and sometimes, they can be downright creepy. But where’s the line?

Image Credit: yacobchuk/Getty Images

Track Your Steps, to Better Health

Starting at the most simple, there are loads of tracker devices and apps you can set up to check your daily activity at the most basic level. Do you remember to get up and walk around every now and again? An app on your smartwatch might remind you. Need to get your heart rate up a few times a day? Try a buzzing wrist alert that can give you a nudge out the door. Some companies overseas have even made it a requirement that their workers get their steps in every day, upon penalty of pushups (but that’s not legal in the U.S. where ADA requirements make most exercise incentives fine, but blanket mandates a no-no).

Keep Things Safer With a Wearable

Not everyone’s workplace is all cubicles and paperwork. Some hardworking stiffs have to dodge serious injuries on construction sites, oil fields, and fast-moving factory floors. Devices like sensors that tell you when you’re lifting too much, a smart hat that alerts you before you fall asleep behind the wheel, and other yet-to-be-invented technologies will work to increase worker safety by alerting you if you’re doing something that could get you hurt. So instead of cursing the robots, we can thank them for keeping us a bit safer. Thanks, robots!

But Here’s the Dark Side of Wearables

In the name of increasing worker productivity, there are ways to track more than just keystrokes and internet time. Now there are wearables that track human interactions, and even inflections in speech to check for engagement. Google’s Advanced Technology and Product Group was recently awarded a prize for their work to integrate connective fibers into fabric, which make for interesting (or scary) developments in hidden wearables, say, in your shirt or pants. Maybe you have to swipe right on your arm to gain entry to a door at work, or maybe your boss can track how many trips you take to the bathroom each day (and grade you on your time usage).

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They Can Also Get Under Your Skin

One Swedish firm is experimenting with a microchip implanted under your skin. It lets employees open doors, turn on or off the security alarm, and eliminates the need for many extra security cards and keys and the like. But what’s the cost? Does employee morale improve when you’re forced into giving up data points with every step or heartbeat? If something is done automatically, is it necessarily better than by choice? Being forced to, say, take a certain route for “efficiency’s sake,” like in the lives of product pickers at Amazon’s vast warehouses — they wear GPS-enabled devices giving them the route deemed best — does that improve an employee’s life? Or simply give them a reason not to express their own opinion, or develop creative thoughts?

What Do You Think?

Are wearables for the best or for Big Brother? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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