“It’s pretty out there for us today – it’s a bit sci-fi”

HC talks to Aaron McEwan about hurdles to clear before employees will readily agree to having technology attached to them

“It’s pretty out there for us today – it’s a bit sci-fi”
There are some hurdles to clear before employees will readily agree to having technology attached to them that will gather information for their employer, according to  Aaron McEwan, HR advisory leader at CEB.

“It’s pretty out there for us today – it’s a bit sci-fi,” he said.

“If I was a glass half empty person I’d be looking at the horribly scary dystopian future of Orwell.”

However, be believes certain changes occurring at societal level will make this sharing of data more likely to occur.

Firstly, there’s the burning desire from employees for flexibility. While some employers have been slow to embrace this – possibly, according to McEwan, due to a fear that customer expectations won’t be met if flexibility is offered – there will come a time when not offering flexibility won’t be an option.

Secondly, McEwan has seen evidence that millennials are much more inclined to give up their data if they get something for it.

“If those two things coincide with the ability to manage big data and manage the associated privacy issues around it, employees will likely be willing to give that up – especially if it means they get the flexibility they desire,” he said.

“If it means someone telling them that coming into work at 8am is not ideal for them, and they’d be better off coming in at 10am, that’s only going to be beneficial to them.”

He adds that this is already occurring – Facebook, LinkedIn, even supermarkets and airline loyalty programs all thrive on the data collected about users. “Airline loyalty programs are the prime example,” said McEwan.

“They are among the most advanced at collecting this data, at nudging our behaviours in gentle ways, and making it incredibly attractive to share that data. In return we get free flights, a higher level of service and treatment based on you as an individual.

“Employees want all of that too – convenience, work-life balance, and respect. If we can give those things to employees they will share their data relatively freely.”

McEwan readily admits he is an optimist. He hopes for a ‘softer’ future, one that allows people to live the lives they want to and to feel enriched by their experiences.

He added that currently industrialised nations have the highest levels of depression, anxiety and suicide and the lowest levels of happiness and wellbeing.

“We’ve been continually putting the onus on individuals to fix that themselves; my belief is it’s our institutions that perhaps have the greatest role and responsibility – and maybe this is the way we get there.

“What I’m most interested in is the acceleration to that future whereby we can understand the conditions that create not just optimum performance but optimum human functioning.”

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