Employee Behavior and Wearable Monitoring Devices

Topic(s): Uncategorized
Publication: Harvard Business Review
Article: Wearables in the Workplace
Authors: H. J. Wilson
Reviewed by: Megan Leasher

Is big brother watching you? Is he hiding in your clothes?

This article focuses on wearable computing and tracking devices that record the behaviors of employees. They both monitor and measure the speed of task completion, as well as any changes in the way tasks are completed. The goal of these wearable monitoring devices is to provide feedback on employee behaviors and task performance that can be used to better design work, improve the efficiency of task flow, and hold employees accountable to certain productivity standards.

The idea behind this research is not new, and was actually made very popular by Frederick Taylor’s time and motion studies a century ago. What is new is the technology now available for monitoring. In the modern era of technical sophistication, a human doesn’t have to observe employees’ actions. Instead, highly advanced wearable monitoring devices can easily scrutinize employee behavior and generate data for three kinds of analysis:

    1. Measurement of people’s work movements to track the speed of work tasks.
      When these wearable monitoring devices are used for productivity reasons, employees are generally annoyed by the feelings of “surveillance;” however, when they are used for safety and/or fatigue monitoring, employees find them much easier to accept.


    1. Analyzing time and motions needed to successfully complete a complicated process
      This type of monitoring can be used with groups to help employees collaborate better and work smarter, if not necessarily faster. Also, these are commonly used with pilots to improve communication and allow better interpretation of information in the cockpit.


  1. Data quantifying the physiological things inside of us: Monitoring things like heart rate and cognitive processing to understand health and or thought patterns.

It almost sounds like a psychological debate over mind versus body. Are we just fancy, mindless robots to be tweaked and refined for ultimate production outputs, or are we humans making critical judgments to accomplish the goals of our work, in the way we each best see fit? As a scientist, I find these devices fascinating and beneficial. But, as a human, I also find them somewhat intrusive and borderline invasive. My own polarization makes me wonder how they will be used and received in more organizations going forward.