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Wearables At Work : Big Data Or Big Brother?

This is a Guest post by Kate Smedley, from Advorto.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is fully upon us. It’s predicted that 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use during 2016 – with 5.5 million new things connected every day – rising to nearly 21 billion in 2020.

This all-encompassing connectivity is emerging in the workplace through wearables such as Fitbit and Apple Watch. Managing the fine line between ‘big data’ and ‘big brother’, as wearables drive technological change, will be the responsibility of HR.

The good news is that employees are cautiously open to the concept of wearables at work. A PwC survey found that 44% of people would be happy to use wearable technology provided by their employer and allow them to collect data from it. This number increased to 56% provided there was a related benefit, for example, flexible working, fitness incentives, free health screening and lower health insurance premiums. Similarly, 53% would be happy to have data collected if it led to improved working conditions, benefits and better career opportunities.

Concern lies in the potentially disruptive nature of wearables at work. The PWC survey also found:-

  • 40% of employees don’t trust their employer to use the data for their benefit.
  • 41% don’t trust their employer not to use the data against them.

Safeguarding the privacy of its employees also remains an issue to be handled through more rigorous cybersecurity measures to ensure the protection of data held.

The benefits of wearables

Wearables are a growing part of the ‘brave new world’ of Digital HR identified by Deloitte, but the long-term implications are still difficult to fully comprehend. When implemented carefully, wearable technology can positively impact the ways in which companies hire, manage and retain their staff.

Here’s how:-

Forming part of the picture : The data collected via wearables in isolation only gives a fragment of the overall picture of an employee’s character and habits, but contains insightful psychological and emotional information. Combining this with additional data sourced from online personality or psychometric tests gives HR context and an overview of how people respond to given situations in the working environment.

Effective in hiring : Wearables provided for candidate use during the hiring process can indicate how they respond to stress levels (in already demanding circumstances) and help HR to understand behavioural patterns.  For example, data provided by wearables measures stress by detecting heart rates during pressured situations. To be informative and objective, this requires careful evaluation and assessment – as well as candidate permission.

Better quality of hire : Wearables may in this way also prove to be useful in improving the quality of hire, the most important metric identified in LinkedIn’s 2016 Global Recruiting Trends. Only a quarter of employers are confident in their ability to assess this metric, with only 5% claiming to be ‘best in class’.

Automated hiring : In future, a business planning system may feed skills and hiring requirements directly into its recruitment software, ultimately posting, screening and communicating with new hires through mobile devices.

Overcoming resistance to wearables

For some, the encroachment of more data collection and analysis in the workplace may represent a step too far towards ‘big brother’ and automation. Such concerns are understandable, given that predictions suggest a quarter of all jobs will be replaced by ‘robots’ by 2025. To overcome resistance and employee discomfort with the use of data collected from wearables, HR must:-

Create a plan : Employers must understand the purpose of collecting the data. It should be relevant to individuals and company objectives as a whole.

Get clear on the benefits : Demonstrate to employees the type of data to be gathered, when it will be collected, how the information will be used and the effect on employees. PwC suggests that the data enables employers to tailor the working environment to better respond to the needs of its people, leading to higher levels of engagement and a happier, more productive workforce.

Provide ‘in-person’ feedback : When providing feedback on the data gathered, focus on the positive, such as, how to improve employee development. To successfully manage this part of the process, carry out all feedback on a face-to-face basis, not via digital means. Retaining the ‘human’ element of HR is vital to build trust and acceptance.

Be aware of the impact on employees : PwC revealed that millennials are more open to the idea of wearables than older generations. Accommodating and responding authentically to concerns will help to allay concerns of employees, as well as overcome trust issues.

Invest in HR technology : The sheer volume of data arising from wearables may be overwhelming for HR functions which still rely on manual recruitment systems. Technology delivers fully integrated solutions throughout the employee ‘lifecycle’. Wearables are another tool to achieve this and businesses must adapt to be competitive.

Data provided through wearables can inform talent acquisition and retention strategies in a constantly evolving workforce. Research suggests that wearables improve both productivity and job satisfaction but issues over data protection and wellbeing need to be carefully assessed. The real issue for HR will lie in how it gathers, shares, uses and protects data to prevent a ‘big brother’ syndrome while retaining the ‘human’ element of its function.

With 18 years of experience in recruitment and HR, Kate Smedley writes on behalf of Advorto. Advorto’s recruitment software provides workflow and structure across the entire hiring process, offering a dynamic database of candidates and aIMG011-80x80nalytics. Used by some of the world’s leading organisations, it provides a straightforward first step into HR analytics and big data.

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