Step It Up

By Robert Goldman

February 21, 2019 6 min read

Remember the old days?

Remember when your boss tracked the amount of work you did?

Not anymore.

Now, employers don't care about how much work you do. Now, the only thing employers track is how many steps you take.

In the words of Christopher Rolland, a writer at The Washington Post, "Welcome to a rapidly growing phenomenon in the workplace: constant health surveillance."

It's true!

Employers that used to insist employees fill out time sheets to measure their productivity levels now insist that employees wear fitness trackers to measure their exercise levels, heart rate and sleep quality.

It's not an oddball outlier.

"20 percent of employers who offer health insurance collected data last year from their employees' wearable devices, up from 14 percent in 2017," writes Rowland. "Annual sales of wearable devices for use in company wellness programs will grow to 18 million in 2023."

This is good news for the friendly, techy elves who make FitBits and iWatches, but it may not be so wonderful for me and thee.

It's not only your boss who is obsessed with tracking you. According to Rowland, tracking data is "an increasingly valuable source of workforce health intelligence for employers and insurance companies."

I'm sure you're perfectly fine with being constantly monitored by insurance companies — I mean, would Snoopy cancel your life insurance if your Fitbit determined you had subprime sleep duration? — but when it comes to our employers, we really do need to watch our step.

And I mean that literally.

Consumer privacy advocates, like Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wonders if data that could be detrimental to your health also could be detrimental to your employment.

"It's quite possible," he says, "there will be effects on whether you are retained, promoted, demoted — who is the first to be laid off."

If you work for a company that is going to track your health, you'd better understand how they view the data they collect.

Take the case of an employee who barely budges from his desk. Is this nose-to-the-grindstone attitude still a sure path to promotion? No way. The most likely consequence for a workaholic is a medical intervention. And don't think you can slip under the radar by claiming you were at your desk because you had work to do.

If you're not on your feet, tracking 6,000 steps every day, you're going to be out on your ear.

Chris Zubko, an employee of Texas-based Regal Plastics, received a very poor and very vocal review from the upper management. "'He just wasn't doing anything' when it came to exercise," Zubko's boss complained. "You could tell because he would get less than 2,000 steps every day."

What a slacker!

While hooking employees up to a fitness tracker may be intrusive, there really is no limit how far the trend will go. If it's for the sake of your health, then why shouldn't your boss insert a few teeny-weeny chips in your stomach? You can almost hear the calls you will be receiving from HR.

"Your work is excellent, but we have serious problems with your nutrition. We just reviewed your duodenum monitor and this is the third time this week you've had

Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos."

Letting your employer monitor your sleep is also risky. Poor sleep may be a factor in depression, substance abuse or "other mental disturbances." Fortunately for you, when your manager dings you for unacceptable sleep quality, you can point out that you make up for staying awake all night by sleeping all day at work.

In the case of Regal Plastics, exercise surveillance is only part of their commitment to employees' health. The company started playing music during working hours. This makes sense, since everyone knows that nothing makes workers more productive than being blasted with crust punk music from morning to night.

As employees won't be getting paid based on their work, it's good to know that participants in a program like UnitedHealthcare Motion can earn as much as $1,000 a year if they hit certain fitness goals, like registering 3,000 steps within 30 minutes. Unfortunately, the only way to do that many steps in that few minutes is to put your computer on the floor and start jumping on it.

You could also take up folk dancing.

If you start seeing outbreaks of clogging in your company, it's time to rack up some extra steps yourself — by walking out the door.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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