Employment of the fittest: wearables offer productivity boom by Jonathan Green

Wearables offer productivity boom

Employees wearing fitness devices could deliver the next big productivity leap in just a couple of years’ time. The challenge for early adopters is not how to harness the potential of wearables, but how to do so fairly.

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Employment of the fittest: wearables offer productivity boom by Jonathan Green
  • Linking bio-rhythms to work diaries can drive performance and boost safety in the workplace
  • How to use the information ethically is a major concern – regulation may be required
  • Third parties may hold information to protect employee privacy

The large scale adoption of wearable devices is not a prediction, but a reality. In Britain, around 6.7million (10% of the population) use health and fitness apps, or wearables. By 2018, an estimated 350 million people worldwide will wear smartwatches and fitness trackers – eight times more than at the start of this year, according to CCS Insight. 

Devices from the likes of Fitbit, Jawbone, China’s Xiaomi and the Apple Smartwatch track and analyse health metrics. These include heartrate, periods of sedentary activity and quality of sleep to give us a rounded picture of our wellbeing and how to improve it.

Driving performance through wearable tech

The potential of using this data to drive performance is obvious and helps explain why Fitbit shares debuted so strongly earlier this year. It is not a big leap of imagination to envisage a scenario where employers in safety-critical environments, such as oil rigs, may use this. It can help to monitor workers for signs of stress, tiredness and burnout so employers’ can take the appropriate action. It is another small step towards seeing more enlightened employers using the data to tackle ‘presenteeism’ and encouraging tired staff to go home.

Combining bio-rhythms with work diaries

Within the next two years, I expect to see apps and wearable devices that combine personal information with work diaries and productivity measurements. Just imagine how this could help you prepare for that crucial business meeting by enabling you to make smart decisions about the best way to balance work, rest, eating and play in a way that is specific to your body and your diary.

A dystopian possibility exists

What is to stop a restaurant picking staff for its lunchtime shift based on who had the best sleep and is, theoretically at least, most likely to deliver great customer service? If this became a reality, how would an employer distinguish between those whose sleep was impacted by a crying baby, compared to those who had a night on the tiles? This is where employers start getting into morally dubious territory and naturally, employees are likely to be wary, at best, about handing over this kind of data. 

Companies will need to reassure staff that they are looking after their information securely and using it appropriately. It is one thing to monitor employees collectively and use anonymised data to improve working conditions. It is quite another to track and censure individual performance based on people’s biorhythms.

Open and honest communication about what is being measured, and how, is essential. One solution may be for third parties to collect and store employees’ personal data – creating an ethical wall between the company and the individual and only handing over anonymised information. 

Staff need to see a clear benefit to handing over their personal data. I imagine ambitious individuals could welcome advice to change their eating, drinking or exercising habits to maximise their performance. I suspect younger people who are more comfortable with technology will be more willing to sign up to that sort of exchange. 

This handover of personal information requires proper protections and oversight to avoid leisure activities affecting the likelihood of getting work the next day. Ultimately, regulation and legislative intervention may be required.

Success in the field of analytics will depend on organisations using the information appropriately and making clear the benefits to employees. Done right it should create a win-win: improving the well-being of employees and gaining an edge on the competition by driving productivity. 


1. Kantar Media future PROOF report 16th Oct 2014 

2. http://www.ccsinsight.com/press/company-news/2137-wearables-market-2015-is-year-that-will-make-or-break-the-smartwatch 

3. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jun/19/is-corporate-wellness-the-big-new-thing-that-will-keep-fitbit-ahead-of-the-pack 

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