Wary of Wearables?

Employers test the waters of microchipped employees and more

For an organization to stay ahead of the game, it must constantly watch for technology that enhances the way it does business. That includes technology that makes employees more efficient and effective.

Over the years, for instance, organizations have equipped employees with wearable devices that can enhance employee safety and streamline operations. Examples include:

  • Work boots with sensors that detect temperature and track motion and location.
  • Sensors worn on pants or shirts to alert workers about safety concerns, such as incidents and hazardous areas on a worksite.
  • Smart glasses that can stream images to others to provide more immediate instruction on tasks for newer, less-skilled employees in training.1

Earlier this summer, Wisconsin-based Three Market Square, a maker of self-checkout technology, took wearable devices one step further by embedding microchips in the hands of willing employees. Using the radio frequency identification (RFID)-compatible microchips, employees can unlock doors around the office, log in to computers and copy machines, and make purchases at the in-office minimart.2

"Now, instead of remembering hundreds of passwords, we’ll be able to hold our hand over an RFID reader," said CEO Todd Westby.3

Earlier this year, a Swedish startup, Epicenter, made headlines by offering the same technology to its employees. Is this just the beginning? Will these devices become more commonplace? According to Tractica, a technology research firm, the answer is yes. There could be more than 75 million wearables used at work by 2020.4

Major companies have begun exploring the potential of implantable devices, too. "The clientele is changing. We have had interest from various companies. Google, Samsung, Apple—they have all bought products from us from their corporate purchasing department, so there are big companies looking at this kind of technology," said Amal Graafstra, CEO and founder of Dangerous Things, a retailer that sells "custom gadgetry for the discerning biohacker."5

Predictably, embedding microchips into employees or forcing them to wear devices stirs up a host of concerns related to the employees’ health, privacy and where this technology might be headed. In the end, is wearable technology all that it’s chalked up to be? Will employees and employers become more accepting of such technology? Are these devices ushering in a new era of employee and workplace management?

Improving the workplace

Wearable devices can result in what seems to be many positive outcomes in terms of how employees work. The construction industry, for instance, has long been aware of wearable technology’s potential to increase productivity and safety. Humanyze, an MIT-incubated social sensing and analytics platform, also has used sensor-embedded staff badges to track employee interactions, locations and postures to enhance processes, employee engagement and teamwork.6

Some HR experts said they believe such smart technology can be used to monitor workplace activities and conditions, and help management make better decisions on reinventing and improving workspaces.

Optimizing space and creating healthier and more comfortable workplaces—in addition to reducing employee stress—are the major focus areas that are driving the increased adoption of smart technology at workplaces. New technology includes heat identifiers, cameras that monitor space use and ergonomics, Internet of Things-based sensors and wearables. By understanding how employees work, communicate and collaborate, organizations can use the data to redesign workplaces, team structures and training programs.7

"Future devices will help companies to monitor stress through heart rate, respiration and sleep. We know that stress and lack of sleep can affect productivity greatly," said Neil Shah of the Stress Management Society. "If we can go into a business and demonstrate stress is costing, say, £2.1 million ($2.7 million) per year through staff turnover, productivity loss, absenteeism and accidents, it’s a no-brainer. We can show that investing £50,000 ($65,000) on well-being can take out 30 or 40% of that cost."8

Drawbacks from the devices

But will wearable devices and embedded microchips lead to something more? How long will it be before GPS and what some consider more intrusive monitoring features are added to the devices?

Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, said hackers could conceivably gain huge swaths of information from embedded microchips. The ethical dilemmas will become bigger the more sophisticated the microchips become.9

"The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone," he said. "Conceptually, you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that."10

If such information is collected, the big questions remain: What happens to it? Who uses it, and for what purpose?

Attorney Jason Branciforte, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson in Washington, D.C., a law firm that specializes in employment and labor law, said that wearable technology also can have a negative effect on morale and productivity.11

If workers are required to have a host of devices that can be distracting, "it lessens productivity, it lessens physical and interpersonal interaction in the workplace," Branciforte said. If the devices become the focal point of the workplace, rather than the work itself and collaboration with colleagues, "I think that has a negative impact on the workplace," he said.12

If an organization plans to implement wearable technology, it must be sure of its benefit for employees because "if it’s used as a ‘big brother’ technology, the company runs a great risk" of alienating employees, Branciforte said.

Employees have long been skeptical of management, said Don MacPherson, head of global talent marketing for Aon Hewitt, and if they suspect they’re being tracked or monitored, they will be less engaged and productive. If the technology is rolled out in a way that is "forced" or requires immediate compliance, "it can be heavy handed and employees lose trust in the organization," Branciforte said.13

In PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) research published last year, 46% of 2,370 U.K. workers surveyed said they would accept a free piece of wearable technology if their employers had access to the data that is recorded. The main barrier for those workers unwilling to share their information is data privacy. A total of 40% said they do not fully trust their employer to use wearable devices for their benefit. Another 37% said they do not trust their employer not to use the data against them in some way.14

"Despite more people owning wearable devices, many people are still reluctant to use them in the workplace due to trust issues," said Anthony Bruce of PwC. "Employers haven’t been able to overcome the ‘big brother’ reaction from people to sharing their personal data."15

—compiled by Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. Mariana Cid De Leon Ovalle, "Top Wearable Tech Coming to Construction Sites in 2017," Boss Magazine, July 19, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/boss-mag-wearable.
  2. Steven Melendez, "Why Would Anyone Let Their Employer Stick a Microchip Into Their Body?" Fast Company, July 25, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/fast-co-microchipping.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Pratibha Nanduri, "Is Workplace Monitoring Required?" HR Technologist, July 11, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/hr-tech-monitoring.
  5. Cadie Thompson, "Here’s Why the Strange Practice of Body Hacking Is Taking Off," Business Insider, July 28, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/biz-insider-body-hack.
  6. Nanduri, "Is Workplace Monitoring Required?" see reference 4.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. "Companies Start Implanting Microchips Into Workers’ Bodies," Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/la-times-implant-chips.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Genevieve Douglas, "Wearable Tech Offers Brave New World for Employers, Workers," Bloomberg BNA, Aug. 4, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/bloom-brave-tech.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. PricewaterhouseCoopers, "Use of Wearables in the Workplace Is Halted by Lack of Trust—PwC Research," June 20, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/pwc-wearable-research.
  15. Marlene Sellebraten, "Workers Wary of Wearables in the Workplace," RCR Wireless News, June 21, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/rcr-workers-wary.


Car Owners Find New Vehicles More Appealing Than Ever: Study

New vehicles are more appealing to car owners now more than ever, according to a recent J.D. Power study.

Car owners’ strong love affair with new vehicles is evident through a nine-point increase in the automotive performance, execution and layout (APEAL) index from last year—the largest gain ever—according to J.D. Power, which conducted the analysis.

In this year’s study, the industry average APEAL index increased to 810 points (on a 1,000-point scale), propelled by significantly better scores in nine of the 10 categories measured and 19 of the 32 brands in the study making positive gains in their performance, compared with 2016.

"Many automakers are getting better and better at giving consumers what they want in a vehicle," said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. "The industry is doing a very good job of creating vehicles customers like across every segment, and the APEAL study identifies why this is. One clear reason is that nonpremium vehicles are increasingly offering technology and safety features found in premium vehicles."

For more results, visit http://tinyurl.com/jdpower-new-vehicle-study.


Appointments Made to Baldrige Panel

Rulon Stacey has been reappointed to another one-year term as chair of the Baldrige Program’s Board of Overseers. Two other board members—Reatha King and Robert Pence—were reappointed to the advisory board, and two new members, Patricia Fagan Greco and Rand Jerris, were added to the panel. All four will serve three-year terms that end in February 2020. The board meets twice a year to review the work of the private sector contractors, which assist the NIST director in managing the Baldrige Award, and makes recommendations for the improvement of the award process as it deems necessary.

APQC Hosts Annual Event

The American Productivity and Quality Center’s annual event on process and performance management will be held Oct. 2-6 in Houston. Visit http://tinyurl.com/apqc-houston-conference for more details.


More Unhappiness With E-Biz

Customer satisfaction with e-business is down 0.8% to 74.3 on a 100-point scale, according to recent results of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

This is the first decline for e-business in four years and seems to be a result of user dissatisfaction with internet news and opinion websites as well as search engines and information websites. Social media is the only category unaffected.

As users increasingly view social media as a news source, customer satisfaction with social media is stable at an ACSI score of 73. Twitter posts the largest gain, overtaking Facebook with an 8% jump to 70. Google+ may have a smaller user base than other social media sites, but its users are the most satisfied. A site redesign and new features launched in January help boost Google+ to the top of the category (+7% to 81).

For more results, visit http://tinyurl.com/acsi-e-biz-ratings.


Several divisions are hosting conferences this month and next. ASQ’s Reliability and Risk Division is cohosting the 2017 Accelerated Stress Testing and Reliability Conference Sept. 27-29 in Austin, TX. Visit www.iee-astr.org for more details. ASQ’s Chemical and Process Industries and Statistics Divisions are cohosting the Fall Technical Conference Oct. 5-6 in Philadelphia. Visit www.falltechnicalconference.org for more information. ASQ’s Audit Division is organizing its 26th annual Audit Conference Oct. 12-13 in Dallas. Get more details at www.asqauditconference.org.

Two ASQ journals are searching for new editors. Applications for editor of the Journal of Quality Technology (JQT) are due Nov. 15.  For more information about the position and the selection process, or to nominate someone, email Ronald J.M.M. Does at r.j.m.m.does@uva.nl. Nominations for the next editor of Technometrics, a quarterly journal co-published by ASQ and the American Statistical Association, are due Nov. 10 and applications are due Dec. 10. For more information, email journals@amstat.org.

Getting to Know …

Jennifer Joy Stepniowski

Current position: Regional director for North America, Pro QC International.

Education: MBA from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

What was your introduction to quality? During my last year as an undergraduate, I worked as a copywriter for a company that created on-hold messages. Regular meetings focused on evaluating and improving the quality of our content.

Is there a teacher who influenced you more than others? Why? My macroeconomics professor in the MBA program, Donald Fell, had a significant influence on me. Fell took concepts I thought I was comfortable with and challenged me to evaluate them in different ways. He improved my critical thinking and piqued my interest in other subjects. His teaching style later influenced my own as an adjunct instructor.

Any previous jobs you consider noteworthy? I was an adjunct instructor at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, teaching marketing and general business courses and assisting the college of continuing education with quality and personal development workshops events. 

What’s the best career advice you ever received? I met with a recruiter early in my career. In a discussion related to what type of position I was pursuing, the recruiter said to make sure I was doing something I was passionate about and enjoyed. She explained how she met with many people looking to change their careers because they had earlier chosen a career path for the wrong reasons.

Are you active in ASQ? I’m chair of the Social Responsibility Technical Community and member of the ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement Technical Planning Committee. I also assist the ASQ Education Division with social media and will be working with the ASQ Innovation Division related to the Performance Awards and Recognition activities.

Are you active on social media? I am very active in social media and manage accounts for Pro QC, ASQ’s Education Division and ASQ’s Social Responsibility Technical Community. I also have a personal blog at www.ijenn.me.

Any recent honors or awards? Elected to ASQ’s 2017 class of fellows. Named one of QP’s Fresh Faces of Quality last year.

What were the last books you read? Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman.

Do you have a favorite blogger? Seth Godin, Simon Sinek and Richard Branson, along with several quality bloggers such as Daniel Zrymiak (A QualitEvolution) and Luigi Sille (sharequality).

Personal: Married and have two children: Aiden, 13, and Skye, 8.

What do you do for fun? Hiking and birding have become my favorite ways to relax. I've also discovered "forest therapy," a relaxation and meditation technique.

Quality quote: Perfect might not be possible, but quality is the next best thing.

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