Using Quantified Self Tools to Ensure Workers Are Engaged

That monitoring employees’ every move will make them miserable might seem like Management 101, but an engineer and a psychologist say employers could have happier workers through surveillance. The idea is to apply the tools of the quantified-self movement to assess worker engagement and satisfaction throughout the day. In a story called “Can Technology Make You Happy?” in IEEE Spectrum’s December issue Kazuo Yano, a nanostructured-silicon device engineer at Hitachi Central Research Laboratory, and Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside, along with PhD candidate Joseph Chancellor report on their collaboration to measure worker well-being with wearable biometric sensors

That monitoring employees’ every move will make them miserable might seem like Management 101, but an engineer and a psychologist say employers could have happier workers through surveillance. The idea is to apply the tools of the quantified-self movement to assess worker engagement and satisfaction throughout the day.

In a story called “Can Technology Make You Happy?” in IEEE Spectrum’s December issue Kazuo Yano, a nanostructured-silicon device engineer at Hitachi Central Research Laboratory, and Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside, along with PhD candidate Joseph Chancellor report on their collaboration to measure worker well-being with wearable biometric sensors:

“The same kind of technology that’s helping people improve their personal lives can yield positive results in the workplace: better communication, better teamwork, and greater job satisfaction on all levels of the organization. Perhaps most intriguing, it can help workers achieve that satisfying feeling of being fully immersed in, energized by, and happy about whatever they are doing.”

Since the launch three years ago of the Hitachi Business Microscope—a small, lightweight computerized badge worn on a neck lanyard—the authors report that “hundreds of organizations, including banks, information service companies, design firms, research institutes, call centers, and hospitals, have used it to collect about 10 terabytes of behavioral data.”

Today, “with off-the-shelf hardware you can readily build a small sensor that can record gigabytes of behavioral data yet weighs just a few tens of grams, so it doesn’t impose a burden on the user or disrupt daily activities,” they write.

Why would employers go to such lengths to measure worker happiness? Lyubomirsky’s research has shown that happy people tend to be more creative, are more productive at work, and go on to earn higher salaries.

No word on how happy the additional data crunching makes the IT staff.

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