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By Konica Minolta 17 Jul 2017

Are we entering the age of the superworker?

With advances in managed health and wellbeing at work having an increasingly positive effect on the output and efficiency of workers, there are three controversial areas for 21st century employers to consider.

1. A wearable dilemma

The rise of wearable technology has already revolutionised sport and leisure, and it’s set to take the workplace by storm too. Employers are increasingly using it to monitor the health and performance of their workers, from stress and tiredness levels to even how much exercise they take outside of work.

According to Gartner, 70 percent of multinational corporations sponsor the use of wearable fitness-tracking devices1. As well as helping bosses understand employees’ performance better, wearables can also deliver insight into the things that drive or hinder employee productivity, such as sleep patterns, anxiety and stress levels, and overall health.  

While there are undeniable advantages for management and employees, objections about invasion of privacy and stress levels actually being increased by close monitoring are two of the main challenges facing the drive towards workplace wearables. The right to equal employment opportunities and promotion may also be compromised if employers reserve promotion for those who are in a better physical shape or suffer less from fatigue or stress.

2. Working on the edge

As the way we all work continues to evolve, it's becoming more important than ever to create the right spaces to nurture new processes. Not only for the sake of productivity though; the blandness of the cubicle, the distractions of open plan, and building design set up to keep us in one place could be making us all ill.

Increased stress levels, poor posture, and sitting for too long in one position is all bad news for health and, consequently, productivity. To counteract this, the future work environment will literally build in opportunities for movement, and ways for us to change our space to keep up with more diverse ways of working.

For its brand new Melbourne headquarters, Medibank demanded a ‘healthy’ building.  The result is a sci-fi swirl of stairs dominating the interior. This design feature links a variety of collaborative or quiet environments, from standing spaces on balconies to lawns and conventional desk spaces.

Brand new buildings provide one way to innovate, but interior design can still breathe life and increased productivity into existing office spaces. Equally, data and information-heavy processes are increasingly being woven into everyday working, so privacy and quiet will also be increasingly valued.

3. Smart drugs

An improved ability to plan and make decisions, accelerated learning and creativity, and increased attention span are all high on every employer’s wish list when recruiting. Interestingly, all of these qualities can be cultivated with performance-enhancing drugs. It’s unsurprising then that more of these drugs are reporting for duty with more workers.

According to reports, incidents related to methylphenidate (commonly known as Ritalin) misuse reported to the NSW Poisons Information Centre between 2004 and 2014 reveals a 210 per cent increase in ‘intentional exposures’, that is, ingestion for overdose or recreational reasons rather than for therapy2.The drug is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is rumoured to provide a brain boost for healthy people. With covert use of smart drugs increasing, this has the potential to drive up the pressure on colleagues to adopt similar unsustainable work patterns.

The question is, how extreme will the long-term consequences of this extreme working be?

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