Joshua Elzy
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HR, writer, & coach promoting equal opportunity
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Lately, employers frequently trumpet their support for “work-life balance” and “letting employees bring their whole selves to work." Meanwhile, technological and legal changes are allowing employers more access to employees’ private lives. To help you understand how the boundaries are shifting around your privacy as an employee, here are 7 evolving trends to watch. 

1. Tracking is often used to counter overtime complaints.

98% of employers use software to monitor their employees, typically to track employee attendance and productivity. Companies with non-exempt US employees often use work time tracking software to defend themselves from overtime suits. Work time tracking can be as simple and transparent as time clocks, or as sneaky as office chairs that monitor their users.

2. Location tracking using certain technology is normal.

The development of GPS technology has allowed employers to track employee location through their vehicles and increasingly sophisticated apps on their smartphones. Employee badges have also become increasingly sophisticated, now featuring accelerometers and secret microphones to track employees’ activities, habits and conversations at work. Rule of thumb: If your employer pays for it, they can legally track you through it.

3. Shared workspaces are in on it, too.

If employees work in a shared office space, they can still be tracked. Shared office innovator WeWork recently acquired Teem and Euclid, software companies that expand WeWork’s ability to track conference room use through badge tracking and heat sensors.

4. Health trackers can come with hidden consequences.

Employers and their health insurers often collaborate through wellness programs to offer fitness trackers to employees and then share the employees’ data. Employees might get an insurance discount for their steps, but employers use this data to predict and monitor employee health conditions. The danger is that employers may use health forecasting to allocate assignments, training, promotions and other opportunities. 

A recent UK survey found 52% of workers “uncomfortable with their employer getting involved in their personal lifestyle choices.” No employee wants their boss knowing how their heart rate spikes when they get feedback — or that they have not yet shared the fact they are pregnant. Keep in mind that in the US, all this biometric data collected about employees can be sold to 3rd parties as long as the seller is not a “healthcare provider” as regulated by HIPAA. 

5. Safety and productivity wearables are becoming more common.

Minutely monitoring worker behavior is part of the burgeoning “precision economy”. Some dangerous professions are now using wearables to identify signs of fatigue in their employees. Meant to cut down on waste and reward productivity, some experts worry such tracking discourages breaks and contemplation. 

Recently, Amazon employees organized to complain about overly controlling conditions, including wearables that track their speed on each task and buzz when they make a mistake. Amazon’s employees complain their work conditions cause mental health issues.

6. Filming is possible.

Filming employees at work generally does not require employee consent or notice. In 2005, the number of employers filming their employees surpassed the number who do not. 

In the UK, Sky News employees were recently dismayed to learn their workplace cameras will broadcast live to the public. Employees are subject to video monitoring even in their own homes, where remote workers have been watched using webcams as early as 2008. No wonder 34% of UK workers fear a ‘Big Brother’ work culture is being created.

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Josh’s professional passion is finding HR solutions that are mutually beneficial for employees and their employer. Starting as an HR Analyst and working his way up to being an HR Director, this SPHR has influenced the careers of thousands of employees and built expertise in a spectrum of HR systems and projects. Josh is driven to build sustainable, high-integrity employment relationships that enhance company performance by enabling the skills and career opportunities of its employees.  

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