Global judgements and ideas.

Developing ‘first-class men’…

‘…the first object of any good system must be that of developing first-class men; and under systemic management the best man rises to the top more certainly and more rapidly than ever before’ (Taylor 1911)

Developing ‘first-class men’ Corporate interests in providing initiatives to help employees become/stay well, as well as gathering information and data about employees’ well-being, are on the rise. This may result from the diminishing of traditional workplaces where management could once physically see and speak to employees, a phenomenon evident in most industries, so data accumulation could be a substitute for this lack of face to face contact. Interest in work and health specifically could also be a result of the awareness of sedentarism that also took hold in many workplaces which themselves began to occupy temporal and spatial dimensions as people began to use computers and other machines more frequently for work, perhaps impacting people’s physical health and lowering productivity. In February 2015 the Office for National Statistics announced that output per hour in the UK was 17 percentage points below the average for the rest of the major G7 advanced economies in 2013 which is the widest productivity gap since 1992. Perhaps these are the reasons for this rising interest.

Depression in the workplace Or, increasing interest in wellness at work may be a response to the recent increase in days taken off work resulting from depression and anxiety. The Labour Force Survey in 2008/9 reported that 415,000 individuals in the UK were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression that people believed had been caused and worsened by current or previous work, second only in prevalence to musculoskeletal disorders (HSE 2009, cited in Donaldson-Feilder and Podro, 2012: 6). The number of days lost due to stress, depression and anxiety, and headaches and migraines rose 2012-2013, whilst all other reasons including heart and gastrointestinal problems dropped (ONS, 2014). So as part of an emerging ‘wellness syndrome’ (Cederstrom and Spicer, 2015), wellness is finally being seen in the public eye as not automatically unrelated to work or something that companies do not recognise as vital for the health of an organisation.

Whatever the reasons for the rise in interest in wellness at work and ways to measure data about it; in principle, health and wellbeing initiatives sound wonderful, inarguably positive and an initiative for the greater good. The use of sensory technological devices in wellness initiatives in workplaces demonstrate innovations in human resource management. FitBit, Strava, Garmin and Jawbone have become very popular devices in the fitness and training world, used to record heartrates and steps taken. Now, workplace wearable self-tracking technological devices in wellness initiatives are seen as a cutting edge method to improve employees’ health and happiness (Wilson, 2013b; Nield, 2014), and according to ABI Research, more than 13 million self-tracking devices will be incorporated into employee wellness programs 2014-19 (Nield, 2014). BP America was an early adopter in 2013 and offered step-tracking armbands as part of a voluntary company-wide initiative in health and well-being. BP’s health and welfare benefits consultant Chris Phalen indicated that more than 90 per cent of employees participated in the initiative and noted that ‘the program has improved morale, contributed to the corporate culture, improved the health of employees, and lowered insurance rates for both the company as well as individuals’ (Lindzon, 2014). The move toward self-tracking in workplaces demonstrates that we are moving toward a phase of corporeal capitalism (Moore, 2015; Smith and Lee, 2015) where the potential for performance management based on big data accumulated by such devices becomes excruciatingly plausible. We are entering a post-knowledge economy era where ideas became incredibly valuable commodities to be exchanged and where work could not, definitively, be measured by traditional Taylorist devices (Drucker, 1992). The knowledge based economy emphasized the value of ideas and virtual working spaces. We are entering a new phase of corporeality where physiology is taken into account, bodies and health are measured and increasingly linked to production. Time and motion studies initiators David and Lillian Gilbreth measured physical movement to improve efficiency. While most motion studies were conducted in industry at the beginning of the 20th century, similar techniques are entering contemporary work measurement systems outside factory and manufacturing work. Recordings are now taken from increasingly intimate measuring devices work directly on bodies. Data to do with what we may have thought of as outside-work activities and our own levels of physical and mental stress may now become workplace norms.

Legal responses There have been very slow legal responses to personal privacy in corporate data collection, and corporate data reservoirs are largely unregulated (Cohen, 2015). In June 2015 the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a proposed rule amending aspects of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with regard to how corporations collect data relating to workplace wellness programmes. The question raised was around the data companies are gathering with the use of wearable technologies and what exactly qualifies as simple health data and what may violate privacy concerns around more intensive medical data. Employees’ steps may be defined as simple health information but data on heart rate, a medical measure, would be considered too invasive. Public comments were invited at the EEOC’s proposals to curb the use of employer surveillance over wearable data in wellness programmes, but the proposal is not likely to be considered again until 2016 (Mingis, 2015). EEOC spokesman James Ryan indicated that:

‘If the information the employer is obtaining is considered ‘medical information’ (e.g., a person’s heart rate over a period of time), then the information would be subject to the ADA’s confidentiality requirements regardless of how the employer obtains this information. By contrast, information that would not be deemed medical information (e.g., how many steps a person takes per day, number of active minutes or calories burned) is not subject to the ADA’s restrictions on disclosure’ (Hamblen, 2015)

Timothy Collins, an employment lawyer for Duane Morris LLP states that ‘employers are up in arms about this proposed rule… wearables would be subject to the rule, especially if employers are handing them out for free and using them to gather data on the habits of workers’ (Mingis, 2015). Many mobile devices on the consumer market commonly used at work as BYOD do not meet PCI Data Security Standard compliance requirements, but Bob Russo, general manager of PCI SSC (Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council) states that:

‘…productivity trumps security… consider the salesperson in the field who has a better chance of closing business if they have immediate access to important data. Think he or she wouldn’t do it? The likely thought process would be, closing business is in the best interest of the firm, and a security breach will never happen to me’ (Armerding, 2013)

In the 1960s, Herzberg controversially theorised that jobs should also provide possibilities for personal development and self-actualisation (1966), a concept that is revived with recent physical and mental health/productivity discourses. The experience of authentic selfhood accessed through subjectivity is idealised: a placeless, utopian concept. As a gesture toward blurring the mind/body distinction (Moore, 2015), productivity and health are the diatribes for such discourses.

What happens next? is a question many are asking.


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This entry was posted on October 5, 2015 by .
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