South African employees and wearable devices in the workplace - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

South African employees and wearable devices in the workplace

New research from PwC shows that more than three-quarters of South African employees would consider wearing a wearable device,
such as a smartwatch, from their employer if the data was used to improve their conditions in the workplace.

PwC’s research with over 2,000 working SA adults shows that 72% of employees would be happy to use a piece of wearable technology provided by their employer and allow the employer to collect data from it. If there are benefits for the individuals, the proportion of employees who are prepare to share information rises to 87%. The most enticing benefits of wearing devices and sharing information are: flexible working hours (76%), fitness incentives (72%), lower health insurance premiums (70%), and free health screening/annual health check (59%).

These are some of the highlights from PwC’s ‘Wearables in the workplace’ report. Many employees are still not comfortable about sharing any of their personal data with their employers, but our research shows that most people can be persuaded if they can see personal or workplace benefits.

Giving employees wearable devices could be a novel and powerful way for employers to gain a better understanding of their workforce and tailor working patterns and office life to their individual needs, ultimately leading to more engaged and happy employees.

The purpose of the study was to explore how employees feel about wearables and whether it might be viable for employers to consider providing wearable devices to employees in order to collect health and work related information. The term ‘wearable technology’ refers to clothing and accessories incorporating computer and advanced electronic technologies.

It is interesting to note that South African employees are more willing to share personal information with their employers than their counterparts in the UK.

Furthermore, employees are most likely to share information with their employers on: marital status (78%), number of children (74%), frequency of physical exercise (64%), average blood pressure (63%), and average heart rate (63%). In exchange for the right benefits, respondents stated they would be happy for their employer to collect and analyse data on certain aspects of their health and lifestyle. This includes: travel time to and from the office (74%), blood pressure (69%), heart rate (68%), movement (62%), and time of arrival and departure from work (61%).

According to the report, trust is the main barrier to employees being willing to share their personal data with their employer. Twenty-percent said they don’t trust their employer to use their data for their benefit, and a similar percentage said they don’t trust their employer to not use this data against them.

Companies exploring health and wellness programmes involving wearable devices can expect buy-in if incentives and proper polices are in place ensuring the privacy of employees’ information. Policies should be set to clearly identify what data will be shared with employers and what this data will be used for.

Employers should also be careful about what categories of data they collect as this will also impact employees’ buy-in.

A high 95% of working adults said they own or use a smartphone followed by a tablet computer (55%), fitness tracker (20%), e-book reader (16%), and a Smartwatch (3%). More than half of respondents (61%) think they have legal ownership of the data produced by their smartphone and other devices themselves, while 17% say the service providers they use online do (e.g. Google, Facebook). Nine percent say they don’t know who has legal ownership of the data.

Organisations have more data than ever before. The key to success for both companies and their employees will be overcoming the trust barriers by having clear processes for acquiring, using and sharing the data securely and responsibly.

Barry Vorster is the Leader of People & Organisation and Nanie Rothman is an Associate Director, Actuarial, Risk and Quants Division at PwC.


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