Digital Empathy: Wearables and Emotional IQ

Wearable technology is one of today’s fastest growing fields of innovation. Already it allows us to easily monitor and record biometric data, connect to GPS, share images or receive calls, and a great deal more – all with little to no effort. The idea of wearable technology has been around for quite some time, but until recently, its primary concern has been practicality. Doing better rather than feeling better. Intel Labs research scientists Margaret Morris and Jennifer Healey believe this attitude is due for an adjustment.

“[T]he way we dress or the way we want wearables to act on our behalf is going to vary depending on either our emotional state, or even more importantly, our emotional goals,” Morris says. Rather than building devices that allow us to function more like a machine with clinical efficiency, researchers are beginning to understand the need for devices that recognize our humanity and assist us in fostering a sort of digital empathy. Healey points to “[w]earable sensors [that] can capture things like galvanic skin response and heart rate and begin interpreting physiological responses.” Clothing that can sense the wearer’s mood or stress level and respond by translating their state of mind into colors or patterns recognizable to others could one day form an entirely new mode of communication. But beyond the dream of a world of sartorial over-sharing (if you thought those maudlin status updates on Facebook were bad, wait until people can literally wear their emotions on their sleeves), identifying and interpreting the root cause of negativity as it’s encountered could ultimately be a boon to business. How?

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Emotional IQ and Employee Retention

Jack Cullen, CEO of recruiting, staffing and consulting firm Modis advises that “[s]omething like 80 percent of employees will cite their direct supervisor as a major reason they'll leave their job.” Correspondingly, we’re witnessing a shift in focus amongst those who hope to succeed in leadership positions, from the dictatorial mentality of the past to a softer, kinder, more collaborative approach. This new ideal emphasizes “emotional IQ,” the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to employees in crisis, de-escalating fraught situations and resulting in higher rates of retention. “As the economy grows and people have more and more choices in their careers, in deciding where to work,” suggests Cullen, ”they are going to make the choice toward companies and supervisors that seem to have their best interests at heart.” But in order for decision makers to consider their employees needs, they must first be able to identify them.

Wearable technology may be a valuable tool in a CIO’s arsenal of understanding. “If you know that someone’s emotional or physiological state is out of the normal range for them, it creates an opportunity to intervene with some sort of experience that the person might be receptive to,” Morris explains. “For example, if someone tends to experience road rage or gets aggravated in meetings and acts in a way that isn’t in their or anyone else’s best interest, you can provide some sort of real-time help or feedback in the moment.”

Although we have yet to see suits and ties equipped with mood-sensing technology, they may not be that far away. Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is underway in New York, and we're excited to debut a number of new wearables on that famous catwalk. The sooner these fashions transition from the runway to the board room, the easier it may be for IT leaders to hire, mentor, and retain the personalities that will best complement their business.

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