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Surprising questions for future employers

In the workforce, the balance of power has recently shifted, with employees in many Australian sectors in the front seat.

They are more empowered than ever despite continued talk of recession – and the associated effects on organisational hiring and growth trends. Just look at TikTok.

The social media platform has become the Glassdoor of Gen Z and Millennial workers, and the trending hashtags tell you everything you need to know about how employees are feeling. From #bareminimummondays and #actyourwage through to #rageapplying, they are venting about their workplaces, responsibilities, salaries and culture.

Unlike Glassdoor, TikTok gives these views virality, with the ability to influence and inspire employees to ask more of their workplaces – and data support this groundswell.

Power to the people

According to new Gartner research, employees in Australia feel they are doing a great job, but they can’t say the same for the organisations they work for. The perception of their individual performance is at 32.2 per cent, the highest since the beginning of 2020, but this effort isn’t being supported by workplace well-being practices. 

Of those surveyed, a concerning 45.4 per cent weren’t aware of any wellness programs on offer for mental, physical or financial health at their organisation. This is deeply concerning given overall employee wellness is at its lowest point in two years at 28.7 per cent, with physical, mental and financial health showing a steep decline over the last three months. These programs have never been more important.

Wearables for wellness

In an effort to better support the well-being of their workforces, some companies are looking to technology for help. By deploying wearable devices, organisations are able to use inputs such as blood oxygen, sleep length and quality, movement and heart rate to evaluate the health of employees. 

Originally created to monitor the physiological functions of astronauts, the technology has been used to improve health, safety and performance across a variety of use cases, from high-performance athletes to asbestos inspectors.

Indeed, the health benefits of wearables saw a jump in workplace usage during the pandemic, as businesses employed these devices to support social distancing and contact tracing. Unsurprisingly, in this scenario, employees were far more willing to use it.

Outside of potentially dangerous workplace situations, however, the use of wearables can feel a little less like altruism and more like Big Brother. In a hybrid work environment, it’s not hard to see the benefit to employers of monitoring employee movement and vitals.

For employees, the immediate response is largely one of fear and distrust. Sharing such deeply personal data feels like an invasion of privacy. However, it’s not just employees who have cause for concern, but employers. 

As soon as organisations begin collecting health information on their employees, they can no longer claim to be unaware if their wellness suffers. Businesses looking to implement these devices should know that empowered employees will harness insights for their own benefit and call their organisations to account. 

Data sharing is a two-way street

If you’re thinking about moving to a company that has invested in technologies like these devices, or your current employer is thinking about doing so, here are the three questions you should ask your manager:

  1. What is your employee health index?

Organisations collecting physical indicators on their employees have the ability to create a comprehensive picture of workforce wellness – and savvy employees should ask just what kind of image it portrays.

If, on average, employees are getting at least six hours sleep and show general heart rate variability (HRV) – a sign of low stress – then they are likely looked after. If not, you may want to look elsewhere.

  • What are you doing with the data?

While data is a precious resource, its power lies in how it is used. If your employer is collecting information on wellness, they are not only gifted with insight into how their employees are really doing, but responsible for it. 

If wearables are reporting low calorie burn and high recovery time, has your organisation implemented walking meetings and subsidised exercise programs to improve fitness? If employees are showing signs of poor-quality sleep, HR should be instigating employee access programs (EAP) and meditation classes.

  • How are you protecting the data rights of your employees? 

Like any business, if your workplace is collecting your data, you have a right to understand what is being collected, the ways in which it is being used, who has access to it, and how it is shared.

Progressive businesses will create an employee data constitution that prioritises transparency and allows employees to opt out of practices they’re not comfortable with.

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Aaron McEwan

Aaron McEwan

Aaron McEwan is a VP, Research & Advisory for Gartner's HR Practice. A behavioural scientist and coaching psychologist, Mr. McEwan believes that great ideas, backed by rigorous science, have the power to unlock the potential of individuals, organizations and the world.

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