Workplace wearables would be welcome

Lauren Kate Rawlins
By Lauren Kate Rawlins, ITWeb digital and innovation contributor.
Johannesburg, 09 Feb 2016
In exchange for benefits, respondents would be happy for their employers to collect data on aspects of their health.
In exchange for benefits, respondents would be happy for their employers to collect data on aspects of their health.

New research from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) shows more than three-quarters of South African employees would consider using a wearable device, provided by their employer - if the data was used to improve their conditions in the workplace.

PwC surveyed 2 283 working South African adults for its "Wearables in the Workplace" report. Some 51% of participants were aged 25 to 34 and there was an equal gender split.

Results showed 72% of employees would be happy to use a piece of wearable technology and allow the employer to collect data from it. If there are benefits for the individuals, the proportion of employees who are prepared to share information rises to 87%.

The benefits most participants were attracted to were flexible working hours (76%), fitness incentives (72%), lower health insurance premiums (70%), and free health screening (59%).

Barry Vorster, PwC leader of people and organisation, says: "Many employees are still not comfortable about sharing any of their personal data with their employers, but our research shows most people can be persuaded if they can see personal or workplace benefits.

"Giving employees wearable devices could be a novel and powerful way for employers to gain a better understanding of their workforce and tailor working patterns and office life to their individual needs, ultimately leading to more engaged and happy employees."

The term 'wearable technology' refers to clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies. Vorster says when wearables first came out, he was sceptical about if it was just a fad, but sales figures in fitness tracking companies have proved otherwise.

Yesterday, Gartner predicted about 274.6 million wearable electronic devices will be sold worldwide in 2016, an increase of 18.4% from 232 million units in 2015 - generating revenue of $28.7 billion.

Vorster suspects more questions around health will be asked in the workplace: "For example, people may want to know if you are 'fitness conscious' and who does 10 000 steps a day, and this could be connected to your LinkedIn profile."

South African employees are more willing to share personal information with their employers than people surveyed in the UK.

South African employees are most likely to share information with their employers on marital status (78%), number of children (74%), frequency of physical exercise (64%), average blood pressure (63%), and average heart rate (63%).

In exchange for the right benefits, respondents stated they would be happy for their employer to collect and analyse data on certain aspects of their health and lifestyle. This includes travel time to and from the office (74%), blood pressure (69%), heart rate (68%), movement (62%), and time of arrival and departure from work (61%).

Limited faith

According to the report, trust is the main barrier to employees being willing to share their personal data with their employer ? 20% said they don't trust their employer to use their data for their benefit, and a similar percentage said they don't trust their employer to not use this data against them.

"Companies exploring health and wellness programmes involving wearable devices can expect buy-in if incentives and proper polices are in place ensuring the privacy of employees' information," says Nanie Rothman, an associate director in PwC's actuarial, risk and quants division.

"Employers should also be careful about what categories of data they collect as this will also impact employees' buy-in."

Rothman says the conversation is happening worldwide around the need for policies to be put in place, but not necessarily in South Africa yet. "A clear data policy is needed to show exactly how the data will be used and analysed. The policies also need to make room for people to opt out, as well."

More than half of respondents (61%) think they have legal ownership of the data produced by their smartphone and other devices themselves, while 17% say the service providers they use online hold ownership (eg, Google, Facebook). Nine percent say they don't know who has legal ownership of the data.

Vorster concludes: "Organisations have more data than ever before. The key to success for both companies and their employees will be overcoming the trust barriers by having clear processes for acquiring, using and sharing the data securely and responsibly."