Microchipping employees takes Workforce Management into the realms of James Bond-style surveillance
With the news that employees in Sweden have been implanted with microchips, David Hughes, head of marketing at Crown Computing explores the wider implications for the workforce management industry.
There’s not much can surprise me in when it comes to staff monitoring, but I was shocked to read that Swedish bio-hacking group BioNyfiken has implanted staff working at a new high-tech Office Complex in Stockholm with microchips.
According to the BBC, in time, all of the 700 staff who will work for businesses based at the new offices will be able to use the chips – similar to those in a contactless payment or travel cards – to enter the building, use the photocopier and pay for their lunch rather than using traditional swipe cards.
At the moment, the chips, which are implanted into the hand, are purely voluntary; but it’s all too easy to see the wider implications of such technology and how some organisations could view it as the ultimate staff monitoring tool. And I for one – and I’m certain that employees and trade unions will agree – think that is frankly terrifying.
For many years, the workforce management industry has fought against accusations that ‘big brother is watching you’.
“Naturally many employees and indeed trade unions were wary because it accurately monitors working hours and attendance; giving line managers an accurate understanding of each staff member’s record, from whether they are late or take a long lunch to how many times they’ve been on sick leave.”
The reality is that workforce management technology, such as our Open Options™ system, has significant benefits not only to any organisation with large numbers of staff but to those employees too. It is designed to make life easier by taking the hard work out of employee management and allowing managers to plan, schedule and analyse staffing in order to meet their business objectives.
It will improve efficiency by scheduling employees with the right skills and training for the right job at times when they are available to work. Employers are also able forecast demand and access real-time data allowing them to identify trends and potential problems before they arise, which in turn allows them to meet their budgetary obligations particularly in terms of controlling staff costs.
For employees, workforce management software allows them to register their presence at the workplace and view their planned tasks or activities from a range of different devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. It allows for flexibility – they can request leave or apply for overtime and know that their own work-life balance requirements can be taken into account. They can also be assured that they will be paid correctly for the work they have done because it is all fully automated.
What’s more, it ensures that managers are aware of staffing levels and the software will highlight shortages before they arise, helping to assist recruitment and prevent stress through overwork.
But chip implants could take workforce management into the realms of surveillance. In time, as more complex chips are developed, they could be used to monitor staff on a wider scale – for example they could be used to see an employee’s location within a building and maybe even observe movement to track an individual’s activity levels. As a result, an employee could suddenly find that they are subject to monitoring despite a previously unblemished record for something as innocuous as spending too long at the photocopier.
This might all sound far-fetched, but a new book, the Wellness Syndrome by academics at Cass Business School, City University London, and Stockholm University, Sweden, claims that wellness programmes aimed at encouraging employees to get fit, eat healthier or give up smoking can backfire, because those who don’t achieve this state of wellness feel like moral failures.
It’s easy to see how in time, chips could be used as an extension of wellness programmes and be used to monitor whether employees are exercising enough, spending too much time sitting down or even spending too much of their free time in the pub.
What’s more, if chipping is adopted by organisations, whether public or private sector, I believe there will be numerous human rights issues. What happens if you refuse to be chipped – can you be fired?
What about if you leave the company – will the chip be removed? And will it show up on airport scanners, leading to inevitable delays – especially in the early days – as customs staff want to check why you are fitted with a computer chip.
And that’s before you even consider the data protection issues!
Ultimately, we aren’t working for a James Bond villain, so let’s keep the chips in our bank cards rather than in our hands and ensure that workforce management remains a tool that increases efficiency and productivity and doesn’t become a form of spying!