The ethics of using smart wearables to nudge employees in Switzerland:

By Théodore Leroux

The contemporary workplace has evolved tremendously in the past decades, and the introduction of new technologies are an important factor to this evolution. Thanks to efforts in miniaturization of processors and batteries, and improvements in network technologies, an altogether new kind of device entered the working space: smart wearables According to a Financial Times article, nearly one third of large american corporations provide the employees with smart wearables, resulting in 202m such devices that have been given out by companies in 2016. Wearables are devices, such as smart watches, rings or smart shoes composed of sensors and actuators that are worn by users. As part of the broader Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, wearables collect information from the device status and the environment, communicate the data to other devices and servers, and is transformed into knowledge for the users and/or other stakeholders.

joint report between Oracle and the London School of Economics argues that there are three benefits to using wearables at the workplace: efficiency, connectivity and health. The first benefit, efficiency, stems largely from hands free applications, such as automatic tracking of goods and task supporting tools. Connectivity, enables employees to get notified more quickly about important information. Finally using wearables to more effectively nudge employees to adopt a healthier lifestyle helps companies reducing costs associated with employee insurance. In addition, studies demonstrate that fitness activities improves productivity. Therefore there appears to be a clear business case for companies to provide workers with wearables.

Yet monitoring employees can have a negative impact on employer attractiveness and retention. How would your employees feel if they knew you could track their exact location, their vital signs and their activity? In addition to the disagreement of being monitored 24/7 by managers, the large volume of nudge signals competing for attention may have counterproductive effects. A Big Think article warns about nudge fatigue, whereby we consciously or not fail to respond to stimuli nudging us to something, because we are overflowed with alarms, reminders and notifications.

In this study, Swiss students are surveyed on their perception of potentially being monitored and nudged by their employers. It aims at answering the following question: Should swiss companies use fitness trackers to monitor employee lifestyle and nudge them to adopt healthier habits?