Wearable technology has been making waves for the last decade and those waves are only getting bigger. Wearables cover a broad range of devices that can be worn on the body, woven into clothing, or attached to the skin. They often rely on wireless connections to computers or smartphones to transmit some type of data about the wearer. Exactly what that data includes and how it can be used varies from one device to another.

Wearables have already become commonplace in many different aspects of life. In particular, fields related to science, medicine, or sports tend to make extensive use of wearable technology to collect biometric data. Many people also make use of wearables in their daily lives. Fitness watches are one of the most common examples of this.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen more and more wearables make their way into the workplace. Many employers are eager to find wearables that will improve their employee performance.

We’re here to cover some of the various wearables that are being used in the workplace. We then want to determine if they provide a performance boost that justifies the investment.

1. Fitness Tracker Wearables

The majority of fitness trackers are designed to emulate the appearance of a digital watch. Some of the most popular dedicated fitness trackers include the Fitbit, Amazfit Band, and the Garmin Forerunner. Most smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch, function as fitness trackers as well. These devices are able to monitor the wearer around the clock and extract relevant data related to their physical activity.

Some of the data that can be provided by a fitness tracker include:

  • Steps taken and movement speed
  • Blood pressure
  • Calories burned
  • Heart rate
  • Sleep schedule
  • Movements related to specific exercises programmed into the device

A watch that is capable of tracking your physical activity won’t directly improve your health. However, studies have indicated that using a fitness tracker can provide more motivation to exercise and lead to long-term behavioral improvements (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5225122/).

But what does all of this mean for the workplace? Most jobs don’t encourage exercise during work hours. Could encouraging the use of fitness trackers at home have any noticeable improvement on a business?

The answer is, “yes”.

There are already several companies utilizing fitness trackers to improve the long-term health and productivity of their employees. Fitness tracking combined with employee reward programs has the potential to improve corporate wellness as a whole by encouraging exercise at home. In general, healthy workers have more energy, better focus, and overall increased productivity.

There’s also a financial advantage that comes from promoting corporate wellness plans with fitness trackers. Employees who are physically active and healthy will spend less money on healthcare costs. The CDC has already shown that employees with health risk factors like obesity or diabetes cost more to insure than healthy workers with fewer risk factors (https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/model/control-costs/index.html).

A fitness watch isn’t a “magic solution” that will improve the health of all of your employees. Many of them may ignore it entirely and others may have health risks that cannot be addressed with simple exercises. However, offering employees the opportunity to participate in a wellness incentive program using fitness trackers can make a positive difference for those who agree. It can provide an overall improvement in employee wellness and productivity while reducing healthcare costs. We believe that’s a worthy investment considering the low cost of your average fitness tracker.

2. Wearables That Detect Stress

Fitness trackers are great for improving your activity level outside of the workplace, but there are still plenty of wearables that can be utilized at the actual job site. Wearables that detect stress levels are a great example of this. Stress trackers like the Fitbit Charge 4 can be worn on the wrist similar to smartwatches. Then there are stress trackers like the Muse or Flowtime that are worn like headbands. Finally, there is some like Spire that clip to your clothes.

Each of these different devices is worn in different places to measure different signs of stress. Stress tracker watches tend to measure your heart rate variability (HVR). HVR is not the same as your standard heart rate. It refers to how the time between heartbeats varies under different levels of stress. A low HVR is a good indicator of increased stress.

Trackers that are clipped to the belt or bra are intended to measure breathing patterns and movement. These are considered the least accurate of the stress trackers but also the least intrusive.

Headband trackers are considered the most reliable. Sometimes referred to as “brain-sensing”, these trackers measure your electrodermal activity (EDA). When you produce sweat caused by stress there are electrical changes that occur on the surface. The headband is able to detect changes in conductivity and thus changes in stress levels.

Many experts view EDA tracking as a powerful tool for tracking the automatic nervous system (ANS). Studies have shown that stress often has a direct impact on the ANS (https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/6964800). This makes EDA sensors an ideal wearable for measuring stress levels.

Stress tracking technology can have numerous benefits in the workplace for employees and employers alike. Stress is known to be a contributing factor to many different diseases and health conditions. Stress produces a hormone called cortisol that can increase blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Prolonged periods of stress can also negatively impact memory, cognition, and learning ability (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/). Reducing stress exposure can clearly have a positive impact on work performance and reliability.

By using stress trackers in the workplace an employer can have a direct view of the mental state of various workers. This information can be used to schedule breaks or to shift focus to a different task for the time being. It allows employers to see how workers react to certain activities and thus select workers who are more comfortable with specific jobs.

3. Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons may look like something from a science fiction movie but they’ve been in use for more than 60 years now. Their design and efficiency have improved drastically over the last decade and they’re now becoming commonplace in industries that require heavy lifting. Their manufacturing price has also decreased enough to make them a justifiable investment.

Exoskeletons are different from other wearable techs because they are not designed to provide some biometric feedback to the employer. Instead, they directly increase the productivity of the worker who is wearing them. A full exoskeleton runs from the shoulders to the toes to provide solid reinforcement for the entire body. They are generally designed for use in the industrial sector where workers need to lift heavy objects or hold heavy tools overhead for long periods of time.

Some of the best exoskeleton devices on the market can reduce muscle fatigue by as much as 300 percent and increase work rate by as much as 27 times (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/238807). By reducing muscle fatigue workers are able to perform their tasks for a longer period of time and greatly improve job performance. The Guardian XO can amplify the wearer’s strength by 20 times (https://www.sarcos.com/products/guardian-xo-powered-exoskeleton/). This makes it possible to lift a load of 200 pounds as though it weighed only 10 pounds.

These are by far the most expensive wearables we’ve covered in the workplace. They will only fill a niche gap in certain industrial or warehouse applications. However, the noticeable improvement in capability and productivity make this is a smart investment for many business owners.

Choosing The Right Wearables For Your Business

If your business consists mostly of office workers, then a bulky exoskeleton won’t serve much use. Likewise, detecting stress levels on a construction site may not be reliable when workers are breathing heavily, sweating, and exposed to loud power tools. Wearable devices can have a significant impact on the performance of your workers if you take the time to choose the right equipment. That also means taking the time to find the best brands and most reliable devices.