Workplace tools and technologies have evolved rapidly in recent years, providing HR professionals with new opportunities to enhance employee engagement and performance. Wearable technology is predicted to be the next big thing and almost a fifth of employees report that they already have access to some form of wearable technology in the workplace.

In fact, the global market for wearables has a forecasted worth of £5.33 billion by 2018, according to Marketsandmarkets[i]. This isn’t surprising considering we already have seen an array of people using this technology. From elite athletes, global organisations, health enthusiasts and gadget fanatics, individuals are turning to wearables to enhance their lifestyles in a variety of ways.

With increasing interest and technology advancements, such tools are only set to evolve and the next wave of this savvy tech could include reality headsets, biometric identification and holographic video conferencing tools. Even though many of these innovations may seem futuristic, they create a wealth of opportunity for businesses to further improve productivity, connectivity and the security of their employees.

In preparation for the wake of wearable technology, here at ADP UK, we set out to explore employee perceptions about wearable technology: how they would use it, if there are any data capture concerns and cross cultural differences in attitudes.

Interestingly, we found that employees see the potential of wearable technology to improve their working lives in a number of ways. A third would use wearables to organise workload according to productive times of the day or help them manage stress. For instance, some apps encourage mindfulness at work, ensuring employees don’t get ‘caught up’ in the stresses of daily tasks and can stay focused throughout the day.  

Workers across Europe also recognise that wearable technology could bring benefits to their overall health and wellbeing. 28% would like to be alerted to a drop in energy levels; equally, 28% would want to identify potential health risks, seeking medical advice where appropriate. Bringing about a greater understanding of an individual’s wellbeing both in and out of work, such tools would enhance productivity and engagement, contributing to greater employee happiness.

Despite a great awareness of the benefits wearables could bring to the workplace, more than half (52%) of employees say that they are concerned about the amount of personal data employers can access via wearable technology. Interestingly, attitudes towards privacy vary between countries. While as many as 60% of German employees express reservations, only 36% of Dutch employees feel this way. Overall, UK workers are the most hesitant to use wearables, with as many as one in five (20%) saying that they would not use wearables at all, compared to 10% in France, and 8% in Germany and the Netherlands.

With such vast differences in attitudes to technology across Europe, it is important that multinational companies consider the cultural preferences of their workforce if they are planning to utilise wearable technology.

Along with catering to various cultures, transparency in how wearable data is used is not only critical in maintaining satisfaction among employees, but is also essential in order to abide to the laws and regulations surrounding the UK Data Protection Act and other legal requirements.

Employers who abide by the red tape, educate their employees about new technologies, and successfully develop a coherent and transparent framework for using wearables and personal data, will be able to maximise the potential benefits.

Wearables truly present a major opportunity for companies looking to boost productivity, efficiency and employee engagement. With so many benefits to be had, we can only expect to see a number of new tools enter the lives of many in the coming years and will also be a key influencer in the engagement of employees within the workplace. Those organisations who implement such tools effectively will not only have the potential to create a fully connected workforce, but also enhance learning and development practices across the globe.

For further findings on ‘Workplace Technology Insight 2015: UK and European employees’ perspective’, please visit the ADP website.

[i] Create Tomorrow.  Demystifying the potential of wearables.