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Notre Dame studies how wearable trackers can make workers happier, more productive

Kristin Bien

by Kristin Bien, WSBT 22 Reporter  |  Monday, February 19th, 2018

How do you sleep at night? Are you stressed? How does that impact you at your job? This is the kind of data a team of researchers is looking into right now and they are using wearable wellness trackers to collect the data.

The goal is to figure out how the latest technology might be able to help employers make their workers happier and more productive.

“This is very early-stage work,” says Aaron Striegel, an associate professor at Notre Dame’s Wireless Institute and leader of this study.

“So we are just trying to figure out what can we learn or sort of how far can we go,” says Striegel.

Researchers will be tracking about 750 people over the next year to figure out how the data captured by this type of technology can help people do a better job at work.

“This could be a way an organization could look at their workforce and say, ‘okay, is everyone tired? Are they stressed? Am I working them too hard?’ — maybe I could say, ‘look, my workplace is less stressed then my competitor, you should come work with me and here is some data that supports that.'”

Participants will wear an activity tracker that’s paired with a smartphone app. That will help gauge sleep, exercise, and stress, as well as daily routines. They will also use Bluetooth beacons — the devices will collect information about the actual workplace like ambient noise, light levels and types of communication.

“What we are trying to learn about is the people who are high performers. Are there certain characteristics about them that we can learn about possibly observing them over time,” says Striegel.

There are ethical questions that come with this type of research. Striegel and his team will be examining those issues.

“We take very special care in how we treat the data and the types of questions we look at. We definitely want to think not only about what can we do but what’s ethical and right to look at. That is an important part to look at as well,” says Striegel.

The team has already started tracking data. Researchers are drawing on people across the country — some are Notre Dame alumni.

The $7.9 million study is focusing on people who work in cognitively-demanding positions, such as engineers, programmers, and managers in high-stress occupations.

The study will continue through 2019. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is funding the study. Email if you are interested in participating.