Wearable devices have become hugely popular in recent years, to the point where it’s no longer novel to see people wearing smartwatches and fitness trackers out in public, or even in the workplace. As much as these devices have allowed for new experiences and added convenience in business and professional settings, they also come with a certain level of risk.

Illustration of a isolated smart watch icon with a 2016 sign

In business cases, a number of companies are now considering wearables as devices to use in their health and wellbeing strategies, or even for staff tracking and other operational functions. Is this a good thing for the employment relationship, and should employees have concerns regarding their privacy and the use of mandated wearable technology?

Full Disclosure Will Be Key to the Acceptance of Workplace Wearables

In an age when the majority of electronic devices are becoming increasingly connected, it is reasonable that the average person should have some concerns regarding their privacy. In personal life, a user can take their own steps to protect their personal data; so what happens when it’s an employer that controls the collection, storage, and use of personal data?

For any organization to be able to make use of wearables for any kind of employee tracking or data collection, it is important that full disclosure is made. Employees need to know what data will be collected, how they are expected to provide it (through wearables or other biometric devices), and how that data will be used. Employers have an obligation to provide all of this information upfront, and an element of transparency will help to facilitate the acceptance of any new workplace policies regarding mandatory wearable devices.

Data Protection is a Non-Negotiable Obligation

Being transparent is the first step, but it’s not enough on its own. Employers need to have an appropriate security solution that will prevent data loss, unauthorized access, or even data theft by third parties. The intent to protect data should be outlined in contractual employment agreements, and should comply with any local or federal laws regarding information collection and storage. While organizations do have some rights to collect data with employee agreement, they should also be aware that employees have the right to decline participation in any new wearable device data initiatives, which could lead employment disputes and loss of valuable staff.

With such a fine balance between making use of new technology and data, privacy, and the employment relationship, organizations will need to be careful when developing strategies regarding wearable devices. It needs to be clear how such devices and data collection will benefit an organization, and appropriate messaging should be in place to achieve employee buy-in for any new initiative.

With the right approach, wearables could allow companies to better track staff attendance, manage workplace incidents, and even ensure the health and wellbeing of employees. However, without the right management, the push for wearables could easily damage the relationship between employees and employers, making strategic planning and communication an essential aspect of implementing any new technology in the workplace.

About Bill McCabe/ Internet of Things Recruiting – Executive Search/ Retained Search for the Internet of Things/ Machine 2 Machine/ Big Data Markets

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