Stress in the workplace has been increasing at an exponential rate for a variety of factors. Even before the pandemic, workers were feeling stressed either by the nature of their jobs or the culture of the company. But the additional stress from the pandemic has caused many employees to vote with their feet and they are choosing to leave their jobs.
In a 2021 study, done by the American Psychological Association, those who typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday are more than three times as likely to say they intend to seek employment elsewhere in the next year (71% vs. 20%).
Employers are looking at several methods to help reduce workplace stress and one of those is using wearables that can measure employees’ stress levels with the goal of using aggregate data to formulate plans to reduce it.
EHS Today talked with Carmen Fontana, an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) member and thought leader on emerging technology, about using wearables and the best ways to introduce the technology to the workforce.
EHS: First let’s talk about how the technology works.
CF: While the most basic measure is the resting heart rate, the more advanced technology is focused on the heart rate variable (HRV) which measures the time interval between heartbeats. This is a more sensitive measurement that can provide granular details on how stress is affecting the body. HRV is a directional, not medical-grade device, but it can be paired with other holistic data to gain insight.
EHS: What reasons are employers giving for adopting this technology?
CF: Employee wellness continues to be a priority for employers, but currently the high number of employees resigning is a top reason for employers to use this technology. It’s an opportunity for employers to demonstrate that they care about their employees, by providing technology that can aid in first measuring and then providing solutions for stress.
In a way, this can be seen both as a preventative technique for the employee and a way to help a company address productivity issues. As an example when the PGA tour provided this type of technology to players and others to detect early signs or symptoms of COVID-19, it gave the tour a way to get ahead of any outbreak. Using this technology in the workplace to detect stress levels can result in early intervention to reduce stress and its effect on the employee and the company in terms of productivity.
EHS: What advice would you offer employers on how to introduce this program?
CF: This should be done in a gentle manner. Employees can be skeptical about wearing a device that gives an employer personal information. There is always the attitude of “big brother” watching. Therefore employers need to be upfront about the reasons they are using this technology and make sure that employees can opt-in. The message should be that we value you as employees and want to help improve stress levels, but this is your choice.
Be very clear that the data the company sees is not specific to an individual but will be an aggregate report about a trend in the workplace. The goal is to determine the stress level of the entire workforce and then provide ways to lower the stress.
EHS: What do you see coming down the pike about this technology?
CF: First it's in the infancy stage of its adoption. While there aren't yet any specific studies on adoption, I would estimate that only 20% of companies are using this technology.
Even as more companies adopt it, the technology will change physically as it will be smaller and therefore safer to use in places such as plant floors. There will also be software changes that will be able to translate the data and offer prescriptive solutions. And that will be the true ROI of this technology as companies learn how to improve the stress level of the organization, which will in turn solve one of the largest challenges facing all organizations which is employee retention.