Friday, June 01, 2007
Measuring Work Stress At The Office
In a scenario reminiscent of Rick Moranis frantically checking his own blood pressure in Head Office, white collar workers now have the option of monitoring their stress levels in their cubicles. HeartMath LLC, based in Boulder Creek, California, has developed emWave PC Stress Relief System software, which "uses a finger or ear pulse monitor that plugs into the USB slot of a personal computer, and a corresponding software application that rates heart rhythms (biofeedback tools) to chart how stressed users are." At least 10,000 individuals in all walks of life, from executives to athletes, are currently using HeartMath software. Considering that employee stress costs corporations $300 billion in year in lost revenue, and that $310 million was spent in 2005 on "stress-related programs", there is clearly a market for any product that can chill out the corporate multitudes.
HeartMatch VP Howard Martin thinks its products will liberate American workers. "We developed a consumer-oriented heart rhythm feedback tool that took something powerful out of the hands of medicine and put it into the hands of people," he asserts. There is even a pocket version of HeartMath's feedback device "that users can carry around to periodically check their heart rate."
Another company, Logisense of Fort Collins, Colorado, has developed software that can monitor workers' stress levels without even requiring their cooperation. It obtains body temperature and sweat secretion levels from a sensor embedded in the subject's computer mouse, gathering data in a way that doesn't "interrupt people's workflow."
One expert suggests that such gadgetry naturally appeals to members of our "very detail-oriented society" in which "people are looking at numbers about themselves all the time," while another dismisses it as mere "faddishness."
Speaking for myself, this software has Orwellian overtones. I cannot help thinking that someday it might be used to control workers' moods, or to identify workers with, say, hypertension so that they can be culled out for the corporate equivalent of a medical discharge. Your employers should be allowed to learn only just so much about you. Go beyond that, and you put yourself at their mercy. There's something to be said for the adage, "Never let them see you sweat."
"Software ID's stress: Work pressure is big business" from The Berkshire Eagle