Microprocessing

A New Study Suggests Employers Track Your Every Move to ‘Improve Productivity’

The researchers claim their data analysis can decrease workplace bias and increase performance, but the truth is much more complicated

Angela Lashbrook
OneZero
Published in
7 min readJul 8, 2019

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How would you feel if your boss told you that, if you wanted that raise, you’d need to wear a tracking device 24/7?

It’s not an implausible future. Workplace wellness programs, which sometimes use fitness trackers and other devices to assess employee health — data that in many cases impact insurance rates — blossomed under the Obama administration, and now cover upwards of 50 million American workers. A new study, funded in part by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence with lead researchers from Dartmouth College, suggests a potential next step into this brave new world: day and night data surveillance that connects seemingly irrelevant data points — like how often you check your phone or leave your home on the weekend — to your work performance.

The study aims to “classify high and low performers” through the use of location-tracking beacons, wearables, and phone apps. It’s similar in design and purpose to two other research programs, called mPerf and MOSAIC, which both investigate how artificial intelligence can aid workers (and, of course, their employers). But experts warn there are many concerns around this kind of tracking.

“The features that are being used in this study are things like how much sleep people are getting, their heart rate, how much physical activity they’re getting,” says Natasha Duarte, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy and security nonprofit. “For a relatively young, privileged, healthy employee, those might be a salient factor… What about people who have disabilities? Basing their workplace performance on how physically active they are could be really discriminatory.”

A total of 554 subjects — 320 men and 234 women — were tracked in the study. They worked in various industries, but mostly in tech and consulting. The subjects regularly filled out classic workplace assessment surveys, in which they replied yes or no to statements such as “today I…

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Angela Lashbrook
OneZero

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.