Before the advent of sentiment analysis, expressing emotions in the workplace was considered trivial to managers and detrimental to productivity.
With the use of wearable devices, however, moods can now be detected and interpreted as another set of workforce data, offering a window into people’s psyche.
In China, reports have surfaced that a government-backed initiative is attempting to ‘read’ the minds of workers with a brain-monitoring device. Electronic sensors are reportedly being embedded into headgear such as helmets and hats to pick up on brain signals that indicate a worker’s mood before transmitting the information to workforce analysts.
The technology is purportedly used to improve efficiency and productivity, and the deployment has been ‘unprecedented’, reports the South China Morning Post. However, it is unclear at this point how the device taps into the wearer’s brain signals.
Studies in neuroscience have given rise to brain-decoding machines that can supposedly peer into another person’s brain and reconfigure what that person is seeing, thinking, and feeling. These machines provide a brain-computer interface (BCI).
Jack Gallant, a researcher from the University of California Berkeley and the inventor of one such device, monitors brain activity through BCI. After scanning the brain, he uses an algorithm that pulls visuals from YouTube videos to conjure up fuzzy images based on these neurological patterns.
The question of China’s brain-monitoring devices for workers, however, isn’t only about how the technology works, but whether it should even be deployed.
“The selling of Facebook data is bad enough,” said Qiao Zhian, psychology professor at Beijing Normal University. “Brain surveillance can take privacy abuse to a whole new level.”
Keeping a close watch over workers’ moods is part of sentiment analysis, another area of people analytics.
Experts believe monitoring ‘mood swings’ throughout the workday – whether by eavesdropping on conversations on Slack or employing a mind-reading helmet – can help managers determine team morale and forecast productivity.
In Deloitte’s 2018 report on global human capital trends, the researchers noted how the increasing popularity of people analytics has opened up a variety of risks. Among them is workers’ opposition to surveillance through analytics tools.
“Organizations are approaching a tipping point around the use of people data, and those that tilt too far could suffer severe employee, customer, and public backlash,” Deloitte reported.