Science of Stress in The Workplace: Focus of Notre Dame Study

Posted: Updated:
Photo courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Photo courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More than 100 Hoosier workers are donning high-tech wearable devices so University of Notre Dame scientists can gather data that could—for the first time—help companies analyze productivity through a new lens. Sound a bit thorny ethically? That’s why Notre Dame Wireless Institute Associate Professor Dr. Aaron Striegel says the university is well-suited to lead the study, as it will focus on “what are the right things to do with this data.” The research, which he notes would’ve been impossible 10 years ago, could uncover answers that top executives sometimes stew over.

“If you wanted to look at, ‘Are my people stressed out? Or are they ready? If we have a product push, is everybody rested? Or is my team too stressed, and we’re more likely to make mistakes?’” says Striegel. “Having a better understanding of the workforce and what one might call organizational readiness—that’s a really interesting factor to be able to gauge, as opposed to it being a delayed signal such as, ‘My people are out sick a lot.’”

The main device to collect the workers’ data is a Garmin vivosmart 3; it’s a wearable activity tracker much like the popular Fitbit, but the scientists chose the product because it’s among the first to include heart rate, which can help measure stress.

Some 750 workers nationwide in white-collar, “cognitively-demanding” jobs will be part of the $8 million project, funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity and involving eight other universities. Although Striegel can’t share specific employers, about 150 Hoosiers at a handful of organizations will be part of the study once it’s fully enrolled.

The activity trackers are just the tip of the informational iceberg; the devices are also paired with a private smartphone app that streams stress data. High-tech environmental sensors will measure factors such as light levels, subtle vibrations and ambient noise—think an open cubicle versus a closed office. 

Beacon technology will log time spent at general locations, such as an office, residence or shopping area. Social aspects are part of the equation as well; sensors will detect coworker interaction, and the participants also agree to share their social media data. IoT technology plays a key role in the collection of the massive amount of data.

“Very few studies have looked at all of these sensors together to see what perspective they might give us. Is there enough data to do something actionable about it at the end of the day?” says Striegel. “We have to balance this all from ethical and privacy standpoints. It’s not just what can you do with this data; you have to think what’s ethical, correct and the responsible use of this technology?”

Combining the massive amount of data points with well-established methods of measuring productivity could reveal patterns, including how stress changes over time and how it impacts workers’ productivity.

“There’s the glib joke that Americans are supreme over-workers. Could one of the outgrowths be, ‘You should take more vacation’? We could demonstrate some better linkages on that,” says Striegel. “We’ll probably identify a bunch of interesting questions that are off-shoots; this is a first step along those lines.”

Striegel believes the scale and length of the 21-month study will produce intriguing data. The pool of participants includes all ages; Striegel is curious if parents, for example, exhibit changes as their school-age kids transition in and out of things like summer break or vacations.

While the individual participant may discover factors that impact their personal productivity, Striegel says the primary focus is examining it from an organizational perspective.

“If [the study] identifies some patterns, that could have interesting implications for human resources and how you might manage your employees,” says Striegel. “Or maybe even using it as a competitive advantage to say, ‘My people are less stressed than their people.’”

Striegel expects early study results in June and “bigger takeaways” when the study concludes in the first quarter of 2019. Powered by a wave of new mobile sensors and novel ways to collect and analyze data, the study may help employers pioneer new methods to assess productivity.  

Striegel says the data may show how things like “workplace creep” at night via smartphones impact stress.
Although the study will look at productivity through an organizational lens, Striegel says individuals may identify personal patterns.
  • Perspectives

    • Truck Driver Supply Impacting Cargo Hauling Demand

      The U.S. unemployment rate has moved down to 3.9 percent, which is its lowest level since December 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Great news! Maybe not. There are business sectors that need employees due to constraints in the labor market - namely truck drivers. The level of employment in the truck transportation industry is essentially unchanged since mid-2015, according to the bureau. And the impact is being felt.

    More

Subscribe

Name:
Company Name:
Email:
Confirm Email:
HTML
INside Edge
Morning Briefing
BigWigs & New Gigs
Life Sciences Indiana
Indiana Connections
INPower
Subscribe
Unsubscribe

Events



  • Most Popular Stories

    • Triple XXX Root Beer Appears in Prime Time

      A soft drink that carries the name of an iconic West Lafayette restaurant has been featured on a national television series. In a message on the Triple XXX Family Restaurant's Instagram page, co-owner Carrie Ehresman said the recent appearance of Triple XXX Root Beer on NBC's "Chicago Fire" was not product placement. She said the show's producers reached out through the restaurant's website and "we weren't sure we'd make the final cut until it aired!"

    • Mark Sandy became Ball State's director of intercollegiate athletics in 2015.

      Ball State to Introduce Next AD

      Ball State University Monday will name a new director of intercollegiate athletics. Mark Sandy, who has served in the position for more than three years, announced his retirement in January. During Sandy's tenure, eight teams won Mid-American Conference league championships or division titles. Three new facilities projects have been completed during his time in Muncie...

    • Winnings Announced For 2017 Indy 500

      Takuma Sato has been awarded $2.46 million for taking the checkered flag Sunday in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. Sato, the first-ever Japanese winner of the race, held off three-time winner Helio Castroneves in the final laps to close out the victory in the sixth-closest finish in Indy 500 history. The total purse was nearly $13.2 million.

    • On-Air

      Find out when and where you can watch and listen to our reports.

    • Simon recently opened outlets in South Korea and France.

      Simon, Marriott Partnership Grows

      Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc. (NYSE: SPG) is expanding its partnership with Maryland-based Marriott International Inc. (Nasdaq: MAR). The companies have announced plans to open at least five new hotels at Simon shopping centers throughout the country over the next several years.