Sensors that track you at work

By on March 10th, 2013 in Ethics, Privacy & Security, Topics

A Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article on March 7, 2013, outlines how employers are using sensors in the workplace to track employees. An example is Bank of America (BoA), which asked some of their call center employees to wear ID badges with sensors tracking their location and tone of conversations. The objective was to learn how F2F (face to face) time with co-workers might improve effectiveness. (Indications are that switching employees to common break times increased productivity by 10%)

According to the article, research indicates that increases in time “in the cubicle” might indicate an employee is more likely to leave their job in the next few months.  Similarly increases in interactions with co-workers seems to be a predictor of folks likely to get promoted.  (Compare with the recent Yahoo policy reducing or eliminating telecommuting)

RFID chips in employee badges allow easy entry controls, and can be combined with bio-metrics for secure environments   But of course can also be used to track employee activity within the facilities.  Employers have the right to monitor and archive online activity using corporate systems and networks (in the U.S.)

And more sophisticated monitoring is emerging as indicated by the BoA use of “tone of conversation” as a factor. Presumably other sensor aspects could be incorporated and tracked. Stress tracking, implicit lie detection, rates of motion, who knows?

Results of some of this research has lead to common break times, larger lunch tables, fewer coffee stations — in essence encouraging folks to interact in the workplace.

There may be other results that are not covered by the WSJ article.  What do you do if someone’s activities might correlate with increased likelihood of leaving the job?  Is there liability for the employer if indications exist of possible disease (slower movement, more bathroom breaks, not going to lunch, etc.)   And of course what risks are there for employees with a much closer monitoring of their activities?

How would you feel about this in your company?
Is this acceptable in your country and/or culture?