Employee data can be used for good, but treat it with care – .

Employee data can be used for good, but treat it with care – .

If you ever cross paths with 58-year-old PwC UK boss Kevin Ellis, take a look at his right wrist.

On this one, there will almost certainly be one of those fitness watch gadgets that people wear to see how fast their hearts are beating and if they’ve walked this much on Tuesday as well as Monday.

In this case, it’s a Garmin Vivosmart 4 tracker and Ellis keeps it strapped to bed, in the shower and of course when jogging to reach his goal of 600 “intensity minutes” of exercise. every week.

“The only time I take it off is for a refill,” he said the other day, adding that he thought most of his accounting group board members were also wearing electronics. “I didn’t ask the board to do it,” he said. “Everyone was just interested. “

Well, they could be, since Ellis’ Garmin isn’t exactly what it seems.

It is one of 1,000 fitness trackers offered by PwC to its UK staff last year, after the first Covid lockdowns began, to test an algorithmic system like few others.

Think of it as a “Fitbit on steroids,” said Rob McCargow, director of artificial intelligence at PwC UK. Unlike other digital wearables that only spit out numbers for their users, Garmin data comes into a PwC platform designed in conjunction with IHP Analytics, a company that has worked with Formula 1 and other organizations. elite athletes who want to improve performance.

The platform also collects data from the timesheets and work schedules of watch wearers, as well as the results of psychometric and cognitive tests. Once all of this is fed by an algorithm, the system is supposed to give each user a better idea of ​​their sleep patterns, stress levels, and overall well-being.

Individual data is only available for the person wearing the Garmin, McCargow said. But it is anonymized and put together to show managers how the whole organization is doing.

He found, for example, that sedentary behavior in the company increased by at least 25% after the onset of blockages. (A smaller pilot before the pandemic allowed for a comparison.) Worker stress levels also decreased after pubs reopened and increased during peak performance review times, which may bolster efforts. to distribute workloads more evenly throughout the year.

Surprised? Maybe not. But as more companies experiment with hybrid ways of working, PwC believes there will be a growing demand for tools like this that can check worker wellbeing in real time and see, for example. example, if the deployment of subscriptions to meditation apps really makes a difference.

“I can see customers taking this as a way to attract staff,” said Ellis, who is keen to stress that the watch is not mandatory. “We’re not talking about some kind of Big Brother surveillance. PwC came under fire last year for developing a facial recognition tool that could track financial services staff working from home. But his new system is set to expand. Up to 5,000 more fitness watches are expected to be rolled out soon, and high demand is expected: Staff recovered last year’s 1,000 Garmin in less than four hours.

However, it is difficult to be completely convinced by this kind of platform. Technology in the workplace isn’t necessarily bad if deployed well, and a large company like PwC is likely to use it for the good of their employees. But there is no guarantee that its customers will. Days after speaking to Kevin Ellis, news broke that spyware made by an Israeli company believed to fight terrorism had instead been attributed to the phones of dissidents and journalists.

Additionally, the digital leash is already increasingly stretched to some workers in what a recent report called the Amazon Work Age. “The techniques and tools of odd-job economics have spread far beyond odd-job work,” says the UK Institute for the Future of Work study.

“Algorithmic systems are used throughout the economy to control fundamental aspects of work,” he warns, undermining efforts to improve well-being. Supermarket workers and truck drivers have so far been the most affected by this change. But for lawyers and accountants too, it may turn out that the greatest risk they face is not being replaced by machines, but being treated like them.

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Twitter: @pilitaclark


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