More Tech Makes It Easier to Track More Things

Today's tools include microchips and brainwave monitoring.

By Tam Harbert March 16, 2019
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​Companies that want to improve employee performance, retention and workplace culture are using more high-tech tools than ever before to track their workers. Here are some of the latest monitoring technologies:

Chipping. A handful of companies are implanting microchips in their workers. In Wisconsin, Three Market Square makes a microchip that’s implanted in a human hand. Once “chipped,” employees no longer have to worry about security badges, computer passwords or even carrying pocket money at the office. The chip enables them to enter a building, log on to computers and get snacks from vending machines with a wave of their hand. Swedish technology firm Biohax says it’s in talks with several U.K. companies to introduce a program that would implant chips in employees to improve security and restrict access to sensitive areas.

Biometrics. A 2018 survey by Spiceworks, a professional network for IT workers, found that a majority of IT employers use biometric technology—including facial and voice recognition as well as hand and iris scans. Sixty-two percent use biometrics for security and access purposes, with another 24 percent planning to implement biometrics by 2020.

Movement tracking and motion sensing. While employers have been tracking vehicles by GPS for a while, movement tracking is starting to become more personal. A company called OccupEye uses motion and heat sensors to detect whether workers are at their desks. Another company, Humanyze, makes badges that use microphones, infrared sensors, accelerometers and Bluetooth to measure employee movements, face-to-face interactions, speech patterns, vocal intonations and posture. Amazon has patented a wristband that tracks workers’ movements. The device could be used to monitor how efficiently warehouse workers fill orders and could also help prevent mistakes by vibrating when they reach for the incorrect bins. 

Audio recording. Walmart recently secured a patent on an audio-sensor system that can listen to sounds at the checkout lane, according to BuzzFeed. The system could analyze conversations between cashiers and customers as well as other sounds to evaluate the performance of employees.

Brainwave monitoring. Chinese companies are reportedly monitoring workers’ brainwaves via sensors in their hats. The data, when used with artificial intelligence algorithms, purportedly spot anger, anxiety and other emotions that can affect employee performance.

To read more about employee monitoring, see Watching the Workers from SHRM's All Things Work newsletter.

Tam Harbert is a freelance technology and business reporter based in the Washington, D.C., area.

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