Activity tracking technologies, also known as wearables, are technologies that track your every step, pulse, pace, active minutes and even sleep. Data from these devices are not only used for good but can be misused to learn about individual health conditions, and critics have asserted that data leakage is, at this point, almost inevitable.
Despite the risks of data abuse companies are increasingly introducing activity tracking to their employees, hoping they can motivate their workers to become more active. The idea is that more active employees are more productive and have fewer sick days.
In my PhD dissertation I conducted research in this area, particularly looking at ethical dilemmas and employees’ experiences of increased health tracking. It is clear that companies should consider a wide range of factors before introducing activity tracking in the workplace. Based on my research I have created a list of do’s and dont’s that all companies should consider before implementing activity tracking as part of their workplace health and wellness initiatives.
(Please note: The list does not take labor- and employment law considerations into account. As an example, it may very well be required to discuss introduction of wearables with Work Councils, health- and safety organizations or similar.)
- Consider which brand of wearable is offered to employees
Consider carefully which data the tracker collects, where it is stored and how it is shared. Previous reports show that most devices do not safeguard health data sufficiently, which may put employees at risk.
- Let employees know who can see what
Asking employees to join a shared group on a health tracking platform, for example, allows colleagues to learn health patterns about each other. This may create unwanted competition or reveal intimate details about private life.
- Communicate alternatives to tracking
Focusing on improving health by focusing on numbers is not for everyone. Employees are most happy when they are able to choose if, when, and how, they wish to focus on improving health and activity. Let the employees decide for themselves if they want to join health tracking platforms.
- Give activity trackers without time to be more active
Activity trackers may show employees how active they are, but without sufficient time or opportunities to change this, employees may end up more stressed than before.
- Think that counting steps is innocent
Research has shown that even something as seemingly innocent as a step-count can in fact reveal much about personal life. Companies should be aware that data from these devices are sensitive and treat it as such.
- Expect long-term use
While trackers are often built to support long-term tracking, research suggests that employees are happy with shorter campaigns, which is manageable and also leaves a smaller data trace.
(This list does not consider companies that introduce activity tracking as part of health insurance programs.)