Ask Us: Rules on wearable tech


We have a rule in that personal mobile phones are not used during working hours.  However, we have a couple of employees that now wear smart watches and they ping several times during the day and the employees are responding to the messages they receive via their watches.  Clearly our mobile phone policy is about phones only and I cannot ban watches – can I?

Social media and personal messages from a variety of sources can be a massive distraction in the workplace and could have an impact on productivity so I understand your policy on banning their use via phones and wanting to incorporate wearable technology.

You could update your policy to include wearable tech and if it is a smart watch make it clear that the messaging functions are not to be used during working hours.  You can instruct users to turn off notifications during working hours so they are not a distraction to the user and their colleagues.

Consistency is an important factor here; you should be sure you are addressing breaches of your policy in the same way or else it could be deemed unfair.  In a study by Samsung Electronics of 4,500 office workers, whose Facebook access is restricted, 41% admitted to accessing the site while at work, so you would need to be sure that if you enforce your rule that you do it consistently.

However, there are some wider issues about a ban in the first place.

Having an outright ban may make an employee feel that they are not trusted, and the trust then may not be reciprocated.  In the 21st century jobs are more about delivering objectives rather than being in place at a certain time, so actually are the messages really an issue if the work is getting done?  You may want to challenge your original decision and by removing the ban, employees may feel a greater sense of autonomy, freedom and give you improved productivity.

A study by Intelligent Office in 2013 found that a quarter of employees say they would not work for a company that banned social media at work. That’s turning off a huge source of talent that you either currently employ or are trying to employ.

“If, [employers] neglect the contemporary needs of their workforce they may face reductions in employee productivity and engagement…. Banning technologies and websites in the workplace often has the opposite effect to that intended, and that organisations are far better off observing how employees are working, and then finding ways to make this behaviour compatible with the workplace”. Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer and business psychologist at University College London (2014)

A report by William Fry solicitors (May 2016) shows average daily usage of social media in the workplace is actually falling, so fears of thousands of hours misspent watching cute animal videos may be overstated.

Hand in hand with this is the need for communication about monitoring internet use to ensure work resources hardware, software and networks are used appropriately along with an up to date social media policy so that employees are clear about the implications of their postings in their social media accounts.  Let us know if you need any help in creating either of these policies.

Wearable tech is not just about social media and messages; it extends to fitness monitoring.  Indeed, some employer provide fitness monitoring devices as part of its workforce well-being strategy.

Technology is not going anywhere.  The way forward could be to embrace it rather than ban it; exploit it as a business opportunity and create modern policies that help manage any real risks it may bring.




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