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Digital Wearables In The Workplace: A Subtle Balance

From smart-watches to portable EEG caps, the availability of neurophysiological consumer-graded wearables has continually been on the rise in the past few years. Many wearables offer the opportunity to measure accelerometer-based activity data, temperature, and even compute heart rate variability (HRV) or EEG bands. With a dramatic fall in cost, these tools have rapidly moved from health-fitness and gaming gadgets to tools able to provide refined insights for the workplace.

Consumer-graded wearables can be used in the workplace to monitor a range of psychological and behavioral constructs, spanning from overall wellness of employees to emotional regulation of managers. The benefit of wearables is the opportunity to provide real-time data on people's physiological activities with minimal invasiveness, thus preserving ecological validity. Moreover, with such information, one can take the necessary steps toward promoting a healthy lifestyle, monitoring the well-being of employees, and understanding issues related to stress or lack of concentration.

Amid several benefits, however, some challenges lie ahead. Privacy protection is one of the primary concerns of using consumer-graded wearables. In light of recent scandals, such as the Cambridge Analytica case, people may view the use of biometric data in the workplace as too strong a breach of personal space, and therefore convey strong resistance to their use. Moreover, as per any organizational neuroscience instrument, inferences made from data produced by wearable devices should be conducted by specialists or experts in neuroscience only. Indeed, rather ironically, most consumer-graded devices are being marketed under the premise that they can improve neurophysiological health and provide opportunities to harness one's emotional responses with easy to visualize plots and results. Yet, the majority of manufacturers use proprietary algorithms to produce such reports, therefore offering little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of their products.

Overall, while technological and managerial research are making formidable steps ahead in the use of wearables in the workplace, it is also important to take some cautionary approaches, and not fall for the recurrent 'seductive allure' pertaining to whatever can be seen as the key to reading our minds...and hearts.

Further Readings

Massaro, S., & Pecchia, L. (2019). Heart rate variability (HRV) analysis: A methodology for organizational neuroscience. Organizational Research Methods, 22(1), 354-393.

Castaldo, R., Montesinos, L., Melillo, P., Massaro, S., & Pecchia, L. (2017). To What Extent Can We Shorten HRV Analysis in Wearable Sensing? A Case Study on Mental Stress Detection. In EMBEC & NBC 2017 (pp. 643-646). Springer, Singapore.


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