Is monitoring employee data the right move for retailers?

Discussion
Photo: Fitbit
Jun 07, 2016
Tom Ryan

Wearables are giving employers the potential to measure worker productivity. But should they?

Consumers are already using Fitbits and other devices to track their own biometrics and seek improvements in their personal lives. A view into their workers’ health indicators and habits could offer employers insights to help support happier and healthier staffs and ultimately improve productivity.

“It’s in nobody’s interest to have overworked, stressed and anxious (sleep-deprived) employees who often aren’t even aware of their own condition,” Chris Brauer, director of innovation and senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, told The Wall Street Journal in a recent discussion on the issue. “Making things visible is a good thing if there is a culture of trust and accountability.”

Wearables may also track performance, depending on the job. Sensors worn during practice by professional athletes detect elevated heart rates and other vital signs to understand if they are working at peak levels or are fatigued. Workplace measurements promise only to advance in sophistication.

Last week, for instance, Vinaya, the London tech startup, launched a biometric wristband that monitors an individual’s emotions. The device takes in heart rate variability, electrodermal activity and blood oxygen levels, then cross-references that information with other types of data such as activity levels, calendar events, location and amount of smartphone notifications.

On the downside, making business decisions based on an employee’s health, stress levels or sleep patterns can be seen as discriminatory. The accuracy of many wearable apps is also being questioned.

The biggest hurdles to using wearables to monitor employees are privacy and security. A CIO Magazine article noted how storing reams of personal data about their employees would add another level of the data-breach risks to corporations as well as the temptation to monetize that data.

Past surveys have shown that a majority of employees are open to using wearables, such as headsets on selling floors, if they help them do their jobs better. But employers may need to offer incentivizes if they want to convince workers to use wearables that monitor their personal information.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see benefits to using wearables to monitor retail employees for health and performance, whether in the store, warehouse or headquarters? Do you think retail employees could be offered incentives to use such wearables?

Braintrust
"This sure sounds overarching and invasive to me."
"Any retailer that pulls this stunt should get horrific reviews on Glassdoor."
"If the company is having some kind of competition among their employees and it’s opt in only then yes!"

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25 Comments on "Is monitoring employee data the right move for retailers?"

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Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

This smacks of Big Brother. It is one thing to provide technology for employees to better do their jobs, it’s another to use it to monitor their health. Employers who want to use wearables should ask employees if they are interested and abide by their decisions without any blowback or judgement.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

This sure sounds overarching and invasive to me. Instead of opening themselves up to the many potential liabilities here, retailers would do better to invest in employees’ careers and increase their pay (and ultimately their retention).

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

This quote from the article says it all … “Making things visible is a good thing if there is a culture of trust and accountability.”

Jointly monitoring employees’ health could be a good thing both for the associate and the manager IF there is a culture of trust and caring. Without accountability and appropriate protocols in place, any benefits from feedback could be offset by privacy concerns and even legal issues.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

In the same spirit as warehouse workers wearing back braces, I think wearable technology could be a great idea. This benefits both the employee and the company, and awareness should be created with that messaging during deployment. The technology can become part of the employees’ daily lives, inside and outside of work, and that can definitely be seen as a benefit for them. I think the offering of a wearable is enough incentive alone, yet I do see a potential for ongoing team challenges/goals to drive continued performance improvement.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Ralph — as a tech guy I get what you’re saying, but given the many retail data breaches, who protects/manages extremely personal/sensitive data for the data’s probably infinite lifetime?

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

sounds creepy to me!

Kim Garretson
BrainTrust

I see one benefit for both employees and employers around monitoring health, stress levels or sleep patterns. There is a lot of focus and debate on employee wellness these days, and one topic there is about vacation policies. The travel industry has published a lot of research data claiming that people are more productive in the weeks leading up to vacations because of excitement about that event, and much more productive once they return. But this research has come only from the travel industry, so it may be suspect. If employers really wanted to measure the positive effects of vacations in setting their policies, this dataset from the wearables could be very interesting.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Frankly, no. This is just a technological bridge too far. It is invasive and it is difficult to imagine that there will not be widespread misuse of this technology.

Could they be induced into wearables? Sure. Are there hundreds of potential lawsuits over wearables and discrimination waiting in the wings? No doubt.

Good thought in theory. Terrible idea in practice.

David Livingston
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

This sounds like a great idea. Many people who have been convicted of crimes involving alcohol are required to wear a SCRAM bracelet to detect if they drink. Other felons wear a GPS device so their movements can be monitored. With health care costs constantly going up we need to make sure our employees are healthy and well. With the wage increase movements we need to make sure we are getting maximum productivity. Employers who are footing the bill for health insurance should not have to play games trying to guess who is fit for work and who isn’t. Random drug tests and annual physicals can be replaced with wearable technology that is up to date giving employers real time transparency in their employee investment.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

You’re kidding, right? We don’t even monitor to see what the heck they do at work all day, but we want to monitor their fitness habits? Good God, what is this country coming to?

J. Peter Deeb
BrainTrust

Where does the monitoring end if employers are measuring health both physical and emotional? I guess the science fictions novels I read as a kid are coming true, where employers (or government) will control our lives by knowing everything about us. I am opposed to any mandatory monitoring of personal information.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

Personally, I could care less who has this sort of info on me, but I know I’m in the minority. To me, it’s obvious that this would create an enormous stink and open a legal can of worms. Don’t even think about it.

Mark Price
BrainTrust

Wearables can help store associates improve the customer experience and in that case they are clearly worth the cost in technology, software and training. Retailers can also monitor traffic patterns of associates to identify under-served areas of the store. Both of those initiatives would improve the overall store experience for customers and have clear benefits in potential engagement and retention.

Wearables monitoring the health of associates crosses the line and opens the retailer to potential lawsuits and invasion of privacy issues. Not recommended.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Think about the assumptions — we know the numbers associated with stress, fatigue, energy or concentration for sleep deprivation, non-work issues, employee issues, workplace issues, etc. Many of the measures indicate a strong emotional response — are those numbers different for excitement, anxiety, fatigue or anger? What are the levels of individual difference? Who is monitoring the numbers? Is it someone who is checking for a specific number and will automatically intervene? Do all emotions require the same intervention? This is an interesting idea fraught with many problems. It is not ready for prime time yet.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Provide the staff with technology to help them do their job better and I am all for it. Provide them something that allows access to personal information and it is a definite no.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

If the company is having some kind of competition among their employees and it’s opt in only then yes! Otherwise absolutely not. This reeks of lawsuits and other such grief.

For my 2 cents.

PJ Walker
Guest

One word — no.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

On this (otherwise grim) Election Day, I can finally cast a vote I truly believe in: worst idea of the year. Not that bad … maybe even an upside? OK, perhaps, but it seems fraught with the potential for abuse, and certain to lead to proscriptive legislation down the road. To suggest that because someone is willing to wear a headset, they’re also willing to wear a heart monitor or whatever (to make sure they’re working hard enough?) is a stretch.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

This could be an interesting area to investigate to see how this would help the employee, customer, business. Retailers should put this on their list of technologies to investigate and I would estimate that for most retailers it would rank around #1,000. Plenty of immediate issues requiring focus and technologies with known payback and immediate business results that should come first. Retailers should focus on getting scheduling, affinity, mobile, BOPIS, customer care, inventory, et al completed prior to assigning resources to technologies with unknown positive results.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

As I read this article, I think back 25 years ago when polygraph was an acceptable tool to use when it came to hiring. Government found it too evasive and outlawed it. The same is going to happen if this movement moves forward.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Boy, talk about creepy! Your employer not only wants to pay you $7.20 an hour, but also wants to know how your blood pressure is, and what your EMOTIONS are? What a complete and utter turnoff. Any retailer that pulls this stunt should get horrific reviews on Glassdoor.

Arie Shpanya
Guest

There are far less invasive ways to monitor employee performance and productivity. Rather than giving employees incentives to use such wearables, why not give incentives for high performance?

William Hogben
BrainTrust

Whether we like it or not, personal tracking is coming. We can choose to accelerate it or slow it down, but not to stop it. Even recent model cell phones track steps and activity, location, etc — and security camera systems are getting close to being able to infer these stats.

Employers looking to promote the health of their employees will be able to. Employers looking to work their staff to the bone will be able to. I wouldn’t be surprised to see minimum exertion levels added to some contracts, and maximum levels added to others.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Giving employees headsets and monitoring conversations is one thing, but measuring bio data is just way too intrusive for employees in retail. There is not enough health and safety justification and the usage of that data against the employee evaluation would open up a can of worms with privacy issues.

Matt Talbot
BrainTrust

I am sure there are benefits to using wearables to monitor retail employees for health and performance, but it goes too far. Rather, retailers and retail brands should focus on embracing the power of wearables and mobile tech to empower in-market employees to do their jobs better. This type of technology not only helps employees to work faster and smarter, it gives management invaluable data on what is happening in store.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"This sure sounds overarching and invasive to me."
"Any retailer that pulls this stunt should get horrific reviews on Glassdoor."
"If the company is having some kind of competition among their employees and it’s opt in only then yes!"

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