Wearable Workplace “Mood Monitors” Are About To Become A Thing

Just… keep… smiling…

image via (cc) flickr user omargurnah

In a move sure to do wonders for the emotional well-being of office workers around the world, tech giant Hitachi has developed a line of wearable mood monitors designed to track and tabulate overall workplace happiness. Were I wearing one of their devices, I would grin from ear to ear and say that it’s a great idea to help improve office morale. But, since I’m not, I can say with a scowl that this feels like something right out of a creepy Office Space/”Brave New World” crossover fever-dream.

The monitors, which look something like a standard I.D. badge, reportedly contain a small accelerometer designed to tracks a wearer’s movement over the course of the workday, sending real-time data to its server up to fifty times per second. Movement, claims Hitachi, is a correlative indicator of a person’s mood, and by monitoring one, they believe they can calculate the other using a proprietary algorithm. The data collected from a single employee’s monitor is assessed alongside the data collected from their coworkers, and ultimately is used to rate an office’s overall happiness on a scale of 1-100.

Like many faddish corporate morale boosters, the path to these workplace mood monitors is paved with fairly good, if somewhat obvious intentions. Uproxx explains: “[Hitachi] Chief researcher Kazuo Yano says the concept for the device originated when they learned co-workers are more productive if they have better social relationships with one another.” How that becomes “electronically track everyone’s emotional state all the time,” though, is anyone’s guess.

As unsettling as the prospect of mood surveillance sounds, Hitachi’s technology already been tested in several workspaces, with early reports indicating it might actually make a difference in terms of productivity. Reports Rocket News 24: one call center where it was used, information from the employees’ happiness meters showed that those who had lively conversations during break time were happiest.

Because of this, the company restructured break time, letting people around the same age (who would be most likely to have “lively conversations”) take their breaks at the same time. The results were incredible, resulting in three times the productivity as before, and leading to more layout and infrastructure changes.

Rescheduled break time seems fairly benign as far as social engineering goes, but office mood monitoring raises a host of obvious privacy concerns. While Hitachi claims their technology is designed to asses overall group mood, and not individual emotional states, it’s easy to imagine it being applied otherwise. Imagine, for example, mood based promotions, or being handed a pink slip based on number of unhappy work-days.

The devices reportedly cost one hundred thousand Yen (a little more than eight hundred dollars) per monitor, and will ship to buyers to this coming April. That means for some of you there’s still a little time left to enjoy being an anonymous workplace grouch. Enjoy it while it lasts.


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