Would you let your employer track your fitness?

Encouraging the health and well-being of employees is a great way for a business to offer their staff benefits such as counselling on relaxation techniques, maintaining a good diet and establishing a heathy lifestyle. But can it go too far?

Over at The Register, my friend Simon reports that Oracle is developing a new module for its HR software. The “Employee Wellness” module will be part of their “Human Capital Management” program.

Is Oracle making “Employee Wellness” a KPI?

Is Oracle making “Employee Wellness” a KPI? (Image credit: The Register)

According to Simon Oracle says

“The application provides recommendations to employees on behaviors that can increase their well-being as well as links between their well-being and their work life.”

While I think measuring your personal performance while exercising and tracking your diet are useful, I’m not sure how happy I’d feel for an employer to access that data. The trouble is that once companies find something they can easily manage, they tend to use it, either as a carrot or stick for employee behaviour.

Imagine if a company could reduce it’s corporate insurance premiums by using employee health data to illustrate that they are less likely for staff to take sick leave or be injured. Or offer incentive payments to staff that make a positive contribution to the company’s insurance premium and penalise less fit employees?

The trouble is that short of monitoring individuals very closely, perhaps even invasively, there’s only limited specific information that can be gained from simple measures.

For example, while BMI is a useful indicator, it breaks down as a useful measure when individuals have large muscle mass. As it’s a ratio of weight and height, muscular people are penalised. Muscle is denser tissue than fat. As a result a lean, muscular person can record a high BMI – one that categorises them as obese” while having single digit body fat. And if a person has a legitimate health issue that prevents them from achieving a goal, will that become a form of discrimination?

On the other hand, there may be some benefits if a company uses aggregated, depersonalised data. If a workplace determined that personnel were inactive for long periods of time, by looking at the amount of time staff spent being sedentary, then they could take steps to change the way workplaces are arranged, introduce practices such as standing meetings, install some walking workstations, standing desks or disable elevators between adjacent floors.

For companies considering employee wellness programs using data, the trick may be in the application of gamification – the application of techniques used in games to engage and reward people for their activity. The popular fitness site Fitocracy already does this successfully and there’s no reason why savvy businesses couldn’t apply similar principles to engage and motivate staff to make improvements in their won health and well-being.

The challenge will be to do this without invading the privacy of individuals and forcing copyright agendas into the personal lives of employees.

What do you think? Would you be happy for your employer to introduce health and well-being monitoring through the HR department? Or is this too invasive?

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