Managing Wellness

"Would you want your boss to know how well you slept last night?"

It is with this sentence that Sarah O’Connor, the Financial Times’ Employment Correspondent, starts her Techblog in the New York Times. Over the past four days (26-29 May 2015) she fitted out in wearable gadgets while she worked, to see if the personal data the devices generated, really would be useful to managers – and whether workers could learn to live with it. Updates on the project were given on a Facebook page and on Twitter with the #wearables hashtag.

Sarah O’Connor describes the “Employers’ perspective.” As such, many of her efforts were put on how to “cheat” or “hack” the system.

Apparently, these wearables are experienced as something “imposed” to which we should rebel... Or not?

The discussion raised by O'Connor is an extremely interesting one: companies and HR are increasingly pushed towards analytics and “big data.” Some experts think wearable technology – from sleep monitors to fitness bands – could be the next frontier in how companies monitor their workers, further blurring the lines between our work and private lives.

But, as one Redditor reacted on Sarah O’Conner’s post, it’s a matter of perspective, perhaps

“it wouldn't be to track my employees, it would be to measure my business so I could make it better (which I would see as good for my customers and good for my employees since we would have more success as a team) [...] What's important is that companies are transparent with employees about what they track and why, listen to employees if some of these efforts raise privacy or trust concerns, and remain flexible about evolving their tracking tactics so that employees are respected even as businesses gain the information they need to better serve customers.”

What if the data wasn’t only for your boss?

What if it would actually be extremely beneficial to the employees themselves?

Recent Deloitte research showed that 70% of individuals are opposed to organisations using their personal data or other data about them. Giving data back and being transparent about the way it is used and the benefits it can deliver to individuals, is key to develop a smart and responsible relationship with health tracking devices.

This makes data meaningful and relevant to the lives of individuals.

Stress, for instance, is affecting 22% of European workers. Some call it a new epidemic. For decades many of us have tried various remedies, from exercise and meditation to “unwinding” over drinks or actually taking medication. For the quality of life of individuals there is a lot to gain in reducing and managing stress.


The future of Stress Management is in (Wearable) Devices able to measure it

“The focus is going to be on managing wellness, rather than managing illness,” said Dr. Shekhar Bhansali, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Florida International University in Miami.

TeddyApp was recently featured in an article on “New Generation Emotion Trackers.” What TeddyApp sets out to do, is to measure stress from people’s vocal waveforms. This makes is fully anonymous and automatic way to measure stress, just while you are having a regular conversation through the app.

But there are numerous of other biometrics that can give clues on your stress levels, and different specialised wearables and apps already integrate these. Many examples could be given of inspiring projects exploring the use of Heart rate variability (HRV), Breathing, or Sleep patterns. 

Rather than focusing on the potential harmful (mis)use, we should not forget the amazing possibilities for empowerment and self-management these tools also offer. This drastically changes the way we think about healthcare: from episodic and reactive to preventive and distributed.

The key now, is to develop this “Quantified Self future” in such a way that it is useful, relevant and respectful to the users. Privacy is an important and challenging issue. 

Have a great, stress-less weekend : )

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