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May 22nd 2015, by David Menkveld

The Quantified Self Movement

From individual performance to collective growth

New flexible working practices have allowed employees greater discretion in how they plan their working day. At the same time, employees now have greater responsibility for their results and for maintaining a good work-life balance, while increasing attention is being devoted to employee health. The desire to prevent undue stress and burnout call for a focus on the employee’s own wishes and preferences. The use of new technology such as ‘wearables’, ‘self-tracking’ and ‘real-time monitoring’ in the workplace can provide valuable information about staff wellbeing, as well as the impact of individual productivity on the organizational objectives. This is the dawn of the ‘Quantified Workplace’.


Monitoring personal performance using ‘smart apps’ began as a something of a fad but in recent years has developed to become an essential feature of sports such as distance running and cycling. No serious cyclist takes to the saddle without first activating his STRAVA, while the runner tracks his personal bests using Runkeeper, with which he can also share the information through the social media. The focus on a healthier life has now extended beyond the world of sports. It is possible to monitor your personal health, eating habits, rest, sleep and so forth using any of the countless ‘wearables’ available on the market. They include Apple’s new iWatch, which integrates with the various apps on the iHealth platform, Microsoft’s Band and Jawbone UP, as well as specialized brands such as FitBit.

The trend has its roots in the ‘Quantified Self’ movement, which since 2007 has promoted the use of technology to monitor personal health and performance. Originally developed by the medical field, monitoring technology quickly found its place in sport and is now set to move into the work setting. The ‘Quantified Workplace’ (QWP) will be the trend of the years ahead.


The traditional method of monitoring employee performance is through supervision, incidental contact with line managers and the annual ‘appraisal interview’. The QWP is all about creating a work setting in which staff are healthier, more productive and more engaged in their work. This is achieved by having them monitor their own performance in real time, as well as aspects such as stress, movement, heartbeat, sleep and social interaction. Knowing and understanding these parameters will allow everyone to plan their time more effectively, setting individual goals and objectives for each day, week or month. Given appropriate ambition and input, those objectives will be that much easier to achieve. In practice, this might mean that someone is able to put their work to one side and go back to it when their ‘performance dashboard’ tells them that they are at their most productive. Or as Samsung puts it, “People will restructure their working lives around personal ‘Power Hours’ as technology reveals peak performance times”

The QWP will give managers a more complete, real-time picture of their employee’s performance and wellbeing. They can then manage more effectively, helping staff to achieve their personal goals or stepping in when someone begins to show signs of stress or reduced fitness. Of course, this raises the spectre of ‘Big Brother is watching you’, but it will be possible to implement the necessary privacy protection. In the first instance, the information is available only to the employee. He or she decides whether and when it is shared with management or the ‘health coach’. The QWP enables all concerned to monitor the stress level and to take timely action, rather than conclude with the benefit of hindsight - and far too late - that the burn-out need not have happened. The QWP allows employees the freedom to structure their time and work in the most productive and healthy way possible.