Whoop is a fitness wearable company based in Boston, MA. Their main product is a wristband that tracks, among other things, the wearer’s length and quality of sleep. It also calculates the wearer’s sleep needs each night based on historical data, amount of activity, and performance level desired for the following day.
Leveraging their own product, Whoop instituted a program wherein their employees can opt-in to receive a $100/month “sleep bonus” when they hit certain sleep targets according to their Whoop strap. The program also includes a public leaderboard where teams can keep track of each other. The premise is that sleep is a key factor in health and work performance. While on its surface this seems similar to other wellness programs offered as company benefits, a major difference here is the collection and usage of biometric data. While this is an opt-in benefit program and not a required people analytics program, one can imagine this type of data being used more regularly in the future.
One concern I have with this example of an employer leveraging biometric data is around employee privacy for those who opt-in to the program. Imagine seeing on the leaderboard that one of your coworkers has only averaged 50% of their sleep needs for the month. If you care about your coworkers, your instinct might be to ask them if everything is ok. Depending what is going on in that person’s life, they might now find themselves in an awkward position that they did not anticipate when they signed up to be eligible for a $100 monthly bonus. Perhaps that person is experiencing trouble in a relationship at home, or has been stressed out and putting in extra hours looking for a new job. Most people aren’t thinking about those possibilities when deciding whether to join one of these wellness programs, especially if everyone else on the team is signing up. The lack of privacy only becomes apparent when something comes up that you’d rather not share.
I am also concerned for the privacy of employees who opt-out. Because of the leaderboard, their absence from the program is apparent and not really a private choice. Thus, those who chose to opt-out are likely to be put in a situation where they have to explain their decision to their coworkers. Do employees have to defend their usage of health insurance benefits or family planning resources? Typically not. So why should the choice of whether to opt-in to the sleep bonus program automatically be public? Both of my concerns around privacy could be largely mitigated by doing away with the leaderboard and keeping both participation and results of the program private.
My overarching concern with this type of biometric data collection in general is that it removes agency from the employee. Just because I had a bad night’s sleep (or slept well!) does not necessarily mean I want my coworkers or my manager to know that. It also does not mean I will or won’t perform well at work that day. As an employee, I should be able to decide what parts of my life I share with my colleagues. While I appreciate that my manager might take an interest in my well-being, I’d rather he or she gets their answers from whatever I choose to share in conversation rather than from biometric data.