UPDATE: Amazon could use wristbands to monitor warehouse workers, patents show
UPDATE: In a statement emailed to HR Dive, an Amazon spokesperson refuted speculation about the patents. “The speculation about this patent is misguided. Every day at companies around the world, employees use handheld scanners to check inventory and fulfill orders. This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates. By moving equipment to associates’ wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens.”
- Amazon has received two patents for devices that could monitor and provide information to workers at distribution centers, reports CNET. The patents could cover a wristband that tracks workers' locations and provides "haptic feedback" to signal whether they have retrieved an item from the right bin.
- CNET says the wristband and feedback system were designed to eliminate certain tasks, such as pushing a button at inventory bins or scanning bar codes. Both patents monitor workers' overall performance for efficiency.
- Amazon is already using robots and delivery drones, according to CNET. But it has recently come under scrutiny for the impact it has on communities and job prospects when it arrives in a region.
Time is money, after all. Worker tracking technology has emerged in a number of workplaces with the intent to streamline offices, update working space to more accurately reflect the work being done and to improve engagement. But to avoid perceptions of micromanagement and mistrust, employees have to have a great deal of trust in the company — and employers need to ensure plans are properly implemented.
Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon), for example, instituted a new inventory management system for its stores that employees say is demoralizing. The scorecard-based system has caused workers to cry, have nightmares about work and even leave the company entirely, according to media reports. Employers can't afford to act in ways that make workers feel they're being unfairly punished; in today's tight labor market, workers who are dissatisfied will look elsewhere. Notably, Whole Foods employees are hopeful that Amazon's expertise with technology can help them overcome current challenges with the system.
For employers seeking to improve their processes, however, data gathering remains the name of the game. Employees seem open to fitness trackers and wearable devices, and many health plans have begun to implement those tools into their engagement tactics. Microchip implants, however, remain on the opposite end of the spectrum, as various privacy questions remain unanswered.