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He feels pressure on his chest. A tickling sensation in his arm. Everything indicates that he is about to suffer a heart attack.
And not only does he feel the indicators himself, but his ring, which measures a variety of health-related stuff, suggests that he is indeed about to have a heart attack. A message is sent to the monitoring terminal. His boss looks at the screen and confirms that it will happen soon.
Should he call 911 and reveal that he is monitoring all of his employees this way, or should he let the man die to keep the secret?
He calls 911 and saves his employee's life.
This is not a real-life example but from the TV series Billions.
(Brilliant show, by the way!)
But could this be a scenario we, as employers, will face soon? Not secretly monitor our employees but more openly look at health-related metrics.
Most of us wander around our companies believing that we can improve the well-being of our employees. To some degree, we can.
We can create a sense of purpose, provide a sense of belonging, and create a fun and inclusive workplace.
But our focus is limited to what happens in the workplace. Modern science is precise that the activities that contribute to greater well-being and longer-term performance are mostly beyond the control of managers and organizations.
We have done our best in the past to nudge, educate, and inspire people to make the "right" choices. But it has all been voluntary, and the decision has been left to the employee to do or not. We also haven’t the technical capabilities to monitor this.
But now we have.
Companies like LifeSignals, NudgeLabs, and Whoop offer businesses the ability to collect data about their employees using their devices. And 57% of employees say they would be willing to wear a device to monitor their health if their employer paid for it.
(Sidenote and disclaimer here, people are probably thinking of "regular" tracking devices, not patch devices that capture EKGs and the like, like LifeSignals.)
If we have the necessary technology and if people are willing to do it, and if we all know the benefits - should we make it mandatory for all employees to wear such a device? And then link it to incentives?
Wouldn’t it be nice if your device could detect that you have not slept long enough? Then send an automated message to your boss that you need to sleep longer to be productive during the day, lock your computer until you have slept more, do your morning meditation to get your head in the right place, and eat a big bowl of oatmeal?
When your blood sugar is correct, your computer will unlock, and you can start your day!
That's (probably) technically possible. But yet, we still don’t see this at workplaces. (Yet is the keyword here.)
And the apparent reason is ethics. I have talked about this in the past. At the time, it was about employers forcing people to exercise.
But is the ethics discussion as black and white as you might think at first glance?
Could it be even more morally wrong to do nothing?
If we know the benefits and do not take advantage of the technical opportunities and resources available, isn’t that unethical?
We have been informing them about how to live a healthy lifestyle and inspiring them to do so for decades; what is the result?
In the U.S., obesity numbers are steadily rising.
Our plan to inform and inspire has worked only moderately, to put it diplomatically.
Could technological progress perhaps reverse the trend?
As you can probably tell from all the question marks in this text, I am torn about my opinion.
From a personal perspective, I love tracking things. I have a Withings scale and a blood pressure monitor. I have had a tracking device on my wrist for many years, currently a Garmin Fenix 6. But am I 100% comfortable sharing this data with my employer, even though I see the benefits? I am not sure.
I am hesitant because most companies I know handle their data poorly, and I worry that people will be given powers they do not know how to handle. The data could potentially be used for good, and the technology is impressive, but the people handling the data are not. Yet.
I think it would take some universally agreed-upon rules to make me feel safe sharing the data. For example, employers can not use the data against me for anything other than initially agreed upon. And that the data is stored securely, etc.
Until we get to that point, I welcome initiatives like NudgeLabs, which are driving progress in a way that is (it seems) ethical yet effective. Where data is aggregated, and the nudge is the crucial part. But then we are back to that ultimately; the choice is back with the individual. Hm. Tricky.
I look forward to continuing the discussion on how we can shape the future of well-being through technology in our workplaces. I am eager to hear more opinions from more voices on how we can shape the future of health and well-being by utilizing tech at our workplaces.
Until we solve that, I think I’ll keep my data to myself.