As companies look to continue raising worker productivity levels (even though the U.S. has the third-highest productivity in the world while wages have stagnated, sigh), they are turning to a surprising new potential ally. Fitness, diet, and sleep-tracking apps are using the 'quantified self' movement to spur workers on to better health — which should ideally result in happier, healthier, and more focused employees.
Clearly, healthy people are more productive at their jobs, and diet and exercise are a big part of feeling well and therefore doing good work. But when companies get directly involved in their workers' health — by tracking their private lives — is it going too far? Seems like the answer might be at least partially determined by whether divulging such information is voluntary or not. (And in some cases, it's not; a London-based analytics firm featured by the Guardian is one that requires its workers to track their info and participate in a company-wide workout plan. As someone who loves to work out, eat healthfully and even track my own sleep and diet, I find the idea of it being compulsory to share offputting — and what if you aren't into those things?)
But privacy issues aside (let's assume your company only wants the best for you and the programs are totally voluntary), is tracking the minutiae of your life — and comparing it with your coworkers — effective?
Leo Widrich, the co-founder of Buffer, a social-media management tool, gave all of his employees JawboneUp wristband monitors, and he noticed a significant change and subsequent difference in his team: "One of our key values at Buffer is to work smarter, not harder," Widrich told Inc. Magazine. “Personal improvement is a big part of that, so giving employees a tool that can help improve their sleep patterns is a no-brainer. A few weeks in it’s already had an incredible effect. Browsing everyone’s sleep patterns and talking about how to get more deep sleep has an amazing effect on productivity.”
OK, if your company really cares about your getting enough sleep, maybe that's a good thing, (although there is some natural variation in how much sleep we need, most don't get enough) — but sleep is pretty innocuous. What about tracking other aspects of your life? I know I would feel very uncomfortable with the idea that someone I worked with could scrutinize what I was eating, and if you had an eating disorder, it would be an anxiety-inducing nightmare. Since workplace bullying is a real issue that's already not dealt with effectively, it seems that bringing private lives into one's job even more would be a recipe for embarrassment and even harassment.
But if something is a good for your company and also genuinely good for employees' lives, maybe it really can be a win-win for both parties: "Lots of companies talk about work goals. 'What I am working on to improve myself,' [the name for Buffer's program] takes that a personal step farther. Since improvements are shared company-wide, it's a great way to get support and encouragement," says Widrich.
And since accountability and encouragement are the keys to success, maybe we can all get healthier by working together on our goals — but I'd add only if it's an opt-in situation, and not an expectation.
Would you divulge your personal info at your job to get healthier?
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