A Cowlar for every employee: Have you heard about the Cowlar? It’s a smart collar that dairy farmers can strap around the necks of cows to monitor their herds. It promises improved milk production, early disease detection, heat detection, and real-time monitoring and alerts. How would you feel about wearing one? I ask because it seems like it’s a question that more and more employers are asking their employees.
“Companies including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have had discussions with tech companies about systems that monitor worker emotions to boost performance and compliance, according to executives at the banks,” reports Hugh Son in Bloomberg Businessweek. They got the idea from MIT Sloan School prof Andrew Lo, who strapped wristwatch sensors that measure pulse and perspiration on 57 stock and bond traders to monitor their reactions in a simulated trading environment. “Imagine if all your traders were required to wear wristwatches that monitor their physiology, and you had a dashboard that tells you in real time who is freaking out,” Lo said to Son. “The technology exists, as does the motivation—one bad trade can cost $100 million.”
If this suggests that employee monitoring devices will be limited to high-risk occupations, you should read Thomas Heath’s Washington Post article on Boston-based Humanyze. Humanyze makes and monitors employee ID badges that hang around your neck. “Each has two microphones doing real-time voice analysis, and each comes with sensors that follow where you are in the office, with motion detectors to record how much you move,” writes Heath. “The beacons tracking your movements are omitted from bathroom locations, to give you some privacy.” The company’s CEO Ben Waber predicts that “every single” ID badge will be so equipped within three to four years.
As with other means of digitally monitoring and measuring employee activity, companies probably should expect some pushback, including legal challenges relating to privacy and discrimination. But Waber says that you can tell employees that their new IDs are “exactly like a Fitbit for your career.” I think it’s going to be a little harder to explain away their unflattering similarity to Cowlars.