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Does the connected workforce breach employee privacy?

Fernando Alvarez | July 30, 2014
Wearables will make it infinitely easier for companies to track employees. But without transparency, that will foster suspicion.

Companies also need to be careful how the data is used. If they're monitoring an employee's health (ostensibly as an employee benefit), is it OK for this data to be used to decide which employees should be employed in certain roles? Is it acceptable to withhold a promotion based on general fitness?

If they want to ensure that the data collected really improves performance, organizations should also be cautious of the way in which they recognize and react to patterns. On a trading floor, the theory might be that the more stressed traders are, the less likely they are to make good investments. Cortisone sensors may highlight these traders, but won't necessarily be able to distinguish between those traders who make better decisions when the cortisone is flowing and those who don't.

Arguably, the connected workforce is an extension of the balanced scorecard system, developed in 1990 by Robert Kaplan. The balanced scorecard measures the links between human inputs and operational processes in a way that helps the organization achieve its strategic objectives. The more companies know about the real performance and behavior of employees, thought Kaplan, the closer they can get toward achieving their most important goals.

As a strategic tool, the balanced scorecard was ahead of its time -- critics at the time suggested it suffered from a lack of actionable data. But through wearable technology, the opportunity exists to improve Kaplan's scorecard, not only to enhance company performance but also employee engagement. The connected workforce enables each and every employee action to be measured, which means that not only can the organization assess the real impact of its human resources on strategy execution, but it can also offer individual employees insight into their own impact. The more aware employees are of their own contributions, the more empowered they will be, which naturally enhances their effectiveness and loyalty. To this end, the connected workforce will focus on employee engagement rather than command and control -- and herein lies the greatest potential for a return on investment.

Organizations are at a crossroads. How they handle the culture of employee connectivity will ultimately have a sizable impact on how effective the technology is. Those organizations that adopt a top-down approach will be viewed by employees as secretive and controlling, greatly diminishing the potential return. To obtain the full benefits of a more connected workforce, they need to collaborate fully with employees, providing transparency and a degree of freedom for individuals to choose how their data is used.


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