Getting In The Zone at Work Using HRV

The Impending Quantified Workplace

There was an article in Bloomberg this week about UK companies measuring employee’s heart rate and other biomarkers to determine if traders were getting in the zone. It suggested in the future we will see corporate workers measured like professional athletes.

Getting In the Zone

The concept makes sense on the face of it. If you can improve an athlete’s performance by measuring output, a similar measuring of performance should be applicable in business. The problem in the business setting is the lack of clarity around what the improved outcome might be. A 100m dash sprinter has one number they are improving, the finish time. All measurements and interventions revolve around that number. In more complex sports there are multiple metrics, all are clear and measurable.

What is the Worker’s Goal Line?

For the worker in business, what is the equivalent? Take the case of the construction worker. Would we look at strength, hand-eye coordination or compliance with instructions? Or the retail clerk. Would they be measured in pleasant demeanor, speed of button strokes at the cash point or sales presentation? When we move to knowledge worker the potential measurements become much more elusive. Is the programmer’s ability to create a complex solution driven by cognitive ability, knowledge or access to good tools?

In each of these cases taking heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) seems very far away from finding the relevant connection to the drivers of performance. I have been working on this for some time, having writing 15 blog posts about different interaction performance tests I have done at work. When I started with Quantified Self, my hypothesis was to see if I could improve negotiation outcomes using a physiological training plan similar to how a runner would prepare for a marathon. To test the idea I measured HRV in 86 different meetings of various types. Very few of my interventions had any impact on outcomes.

An Example of the Challenge

Here is a specific example of how difficult it would be to have access to biometric data from an employee and make sense of it. This is real data. Say you were my boss and our company’s biosensing device gave you these two graphs. In the first, I was meeting with you and several of your peers. The blue lines are that period of the meeting where I was in Vapor Lock and not at my mental best.

Getting In the Zone


The second graph shows my physiology ten minutes later as I was brainstorming with a colleague. Very few blue lines.

Getting In the Zone

How would you counsel me to improve? What do these graphs even say? Was I not “in the zone” with the you and your colleagues and “in the zone” with my colleague? In a world where performance feedback is hard enough to conduct already, you can see how there will need to be a very significant new framework to make sense of data like this.

So the London traders can keep measuring heart rates and perhaps achieve some improved performance. For the construction worker, the retail clerk and the programmer we have a long way to go. In my study from which I pulled the graphs I did draw a conclusion about how to prepare for meetings like that with the Big Bosses.


I would encourage you to try a small work study of your own. Hop over to QuantXLaFont and have a look at how to use a short break before a meeting with the Breath Sync app. You can start measuring your performance and explore this brave, new and complex world.


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