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How technology helps bosses track staff’s health



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To combat the sedentary life style, office workers are trying to stay active by monitoring the number of steps they take everyday and other statistics that show how they are doing physically.

One of the most popular tracking device is Fitbit, a growing number of employers are offering the tracker to its employees as part of their corporate wellness programme including BP, Bank of America, IBM and Time Warner.

A study from ABI Research predicts that by 2018 more than 13 million trackers will be incorporated into corporate wellness plans.

IBM, which gave out Fitbits to 40,000 employees over two years said the device had done wonders to their employee’s health. The company hosted a step challenge, and participants  average 8,800 steps per day, more than double the average of people who don’t wear pedometers.

Barbara Brickmeier, IBM’s vice president of benefits said 63% of IBM employees continued to wear their Fitbit months after the challenge wrapped up. “We know sometimes that there’s a ‘wow factor’ about getting something new and then interest wanes,” she says. “But employees were active and eager.” she told Fast Company.

96% of the workforce also routinely logged their health data, including eating habits.

While it is evidence that Fitbit can make the workforce healthier it has also raised legal and privacy  concerns.  To begin with it tracks more than the number of steps employees take everyday, which is why it’s crucial that employee privacy is protected.

Here is what you can find out about employees from the device.

1. Are your staff pregnant?

A lot of physiological changes occur during pregnancy, including an elevated heart rate and temperature. Combining those numbers Fitbit can pretty much know if an employee is pregnant three months into pregnancy.

2. Faking a sick day off

Fitbit devices don’t have diagnostic abilities, but their trend data can suggest if something is up. When one is sick his or her resting heart rate may rise and often require more sleep.

3. A nervous employee

Heart rate is a useful, albeit not totally reliable, indicator of stress and anxiety.  But it does tell more about one’s stress level compared to facial expressions.

4. Employee had a wild night

Fitbits can tell how much sleep you got  and may spot an elevated heart rate the next morning as you deal with a hangover and dehydration.

The powerful technology has certainly caught the attention of labour lawyers.  Jason Geller, a partner at law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP who represents employers in labour and discrimination disputes told the The Wall Street Journal employers who mandate wearables should provide a policy stating the job-related reason for collecting the data and the limits on its use.

As employers turn to productivity data to justify raises, promotions and firings, such data likely will become key in employer-employee litigation, he says. If less active employees are being penalized, employees might bring a claim that the company is discriminating against less healthy employees or those with a disability.

Last week,  Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager at Fitbit Wellness, testified before a congressional hearing in a session entitled “Innovations in Health Care: Exploring Free-Market Solutions for a Healthy Workforce”.

She emphasised that getting employees to participate in a wellness program also meant assuring them of the privacy and safety of their data and securing employees’ trust, the mobihealth news reports.

“The privacy of our user data and the trust of our customers is paramount at Fitbit. When we work with an employer on an employer wellness program, they have to opt in and give explicit consent to share data with an employer and it’s a subset of the data that’s collected by Fitbit overall.” she said during the hearing.

Image: Shutterstock



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