Aniek Lentferink is currently conducting a PhD research project called Quantified Self @Work, a collaboration between Quantified Self Institute, Hanze UAS, the University of Twente, and Menzis. The goal of this research is to develop an intervention in which sensor technology and persuasive eCoaching are combined to increase sustainable employability of employees by improving their stress management. Aniek has written a blog about her experiences in this project so far.

“The importance of maintaining sustainable employability of staff is increasing as the average age of Dutch people is rising. This because an ageing society results in higher pension costs and less people contributing to the government’s retirement funds. One way to extend the employability of employees is by promoting a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity and stress are important factors for the vitality and fitness of employees. Some even go as far as saying that ‘sitting is the new smoking’. Moreover, research shows that 30% of work-related absenteeism is caused by stress. In response to these developments, various initiatives exist that focus on stimulating healthy behaviour by using wearables. Recent meta-analysis by Herman de Vries and others indicates that wearables indeed contribute to a healthier life. However, how do employees feel about using wearables?

A series of lunch-time walks during the ‘Gezonde Week’ (Health Week) at the University of Twente served as an excellent opportunity to investigate this. Employees were given the chance to try out a wearable. After the test the 76 participating employees filled out a survey about their needs and preferences regarding workplace wearable usage, in light of improving health behaviour.

One of the more promising results was that the vast majority of employees expect wearables to contribute to healthy behaviour to an average to large degree. Employees preferred monitoring health behaviour with a smartphone (40%), followed by a wearable sensor for continuous monitoring (37%). Two thirds of employees were willing to use their own smartphone to monitor health behaviour. Moreover, 60% of employees were open to using a wearable for an extended period of time.

Employees regarded the insights into personal health behaviour gained from wearables as the most positive aspect overall. Promotion and awareness of healthy behaviour were mentioned as the main positive aspects of using wearables at the workplace. Other favourable aspects of workplace wearable usage were its positive influence on collegiality and that it is a sign of involvement by the employer.

One of the greatest barriers of using a wearable in everyday life was the continuous wearing of a device. In addition, employees deemed tracking healthy lifestyle variables that are not automatically collected by wearables as undesirable. Furthermore, unclear visualization of the collected data or unpleasant design of the wearable in question were mentioned as negative points. Specially for wearable use at the workplace,  privacy was deemed as the most negative aspect.

Participants of this research were fairly consistent vis-à-vis whether or not third parties should be given access to the collected data. Researchers, doctors and other medical staff should be allowed to access personal data according to most participants. A large share also expressed that only the employee him- or herself should have access to the data. In addition, a number of employees answered that they would be willing to share their data conditional on their own approval. The main individuals who are not allowed to access this data, according to the surveyed employees, were employers and supervisors.

The survey has been conducted as part of the Quantified Self @Work project. This project focuses on the development of a stress management intervention for employees. Within this eHealth intervention, wearables will be used to measure stress physiologically. The results of the survey serve as input for the development of the intervention. In addition, the results on needs and preferences of workplace wearable usage will be further studied by conducting interviews with employees and other important stakeholders that affect or will be affected by the eHealth intervention.”