Is Microchipping Employees the Future of the Workplace?

More and more companies are embracing the potential of employee microchips. But, will they do more harm than good?

Our devices are disappearing. With each debut of a new phone, computer or security system, they (usually) come to us in smaller, more efficient versions. Now, with companies like Three Square Market adopting microchip implants for their employees, it’s becoming more clear that we’re no longer in the handheld era—we’re well on our way to a biological, hands-free revolution.

While Three Square Market may be the first company in the U.S to start microchip integration, it’s certainly not the first internationally. Organizations like the Swedish start-up, Epicenter, successfully chipped about 150 workers back in January 2015 and continue the practice today. Also, out of the 90 Three Square Market employees, about 50 decided to participate. It seems that a majority of employees are on board—but what exactly is the appeal of merging such invasive, potentially expensive add-ons?

“The biggest benefit, I think, is convenience. It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and chief executive of Epicenter.  

As well all know, having one little rice-sized microchip act as a substitute for both keys and credit cards is kind of a huge deal for the digital age. Knowing that our essentials are safely implanted right between our pointer finger and thumb would save us all a lot of time and stress. Also, with these tiny devices, Square Market employees can perform tasks like “swiping into the office building, pay for food in the cafeteria”, and basically anything in between. Yet, while these are relatively new capabilities, the technology itself isn’t (especially if you own a pet).

“The microchips are radio frequency identification tags. The same technology used in things like key cards. The chips have been implanted in animals for years to help identify lost pets and now the technology is moving to humans,” according to CBS News.

Put in this context, the idea doesn’t appear very attractive. It begs the question, are the advantages of being micro-chipped worth the possible consequences? And how exactly would this technology work on a person, besides granting 24/7 access to keys and credit cards? The answer is not very clear, and a bit scary. One big concern with embedded microchips: the growing possibility of hackers.

“The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone. Conceptually, you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet break and things like that,” stated Ben Libberton, microbiologist for Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute.

Put in the wrong hands, this kind of data could be very dangerous. But what about in the hands of the people we trust? Our employers, even?

“A microchip implanted today to allow for easy building access and payments could, in theory, be used later in more invasive ways: to track the length of employees’ bathroom or lunch breaks, for instance, without their consent or event their knowledge,” warned Ben Libberton.  

Employer/employee relationships are dependent one thing: trust. If microchips were to develop beyond current capabilities, a whole new system of privacy/security ethics would need to be introduced as well. With each change to the workplace dynamic comes a ripple of consequence, which could either benefit or hurt an organization. In this case, microchips would have the power to completely transform the employer/employee dynamic to a point where trust wouldn’t be necessary, since there would be data to tell employers exactly where employees are at all times. And without trust, would there even be a relationship?

Keep in mind that this is hypothetical, considering that as of right now, microchips can’t track in this capacity. But it’s important to consider just how micro-chipping would impact our jobs/lives, now and in the future. And one real, current downside is the physical process of implanting a microchip. While it’s rare, there’s always the risk of a microchip migrating to different parts of the body or worse, becoming infected. But, that doesn’t seem to discourage Three Square Market software engineer, Sam Bengtson:

“It was pretty much 100 percent yes right from the get-go for me. In the next five to ten years, this is going to be something that isn’t scoffed at so much, or is more normal. So I like to jump on the bandwagon with these kind of things early, just to say that I have it.”

And there is definitely truth to that. With each new device or gaming system, there’s always a bit of resistance from the diehard fans of old, classic systems and way of doing things. It simply just takes time for people to warm up to drastic changes, especially scary and potentially dangerous ones. But, along with the diehard fans there’s going to be those brave souls like Dewey Wahlin, general manager of Three Square, that are all in right from the start.

“We are a technology company, when all is said and done, and they’re excited about it. They see this as the future.”

It’s not surprising that the very companies based on innovation are the first to adopt microchips—this is a familiar pattern in the development of technology. But what’s different this time around is where the tech is taking us. Up until now, our devices were always getting more compact, complex. And now, they’re moving into our bodies. It’s a scary thought, but will it be so scary to us ten years from now? One way or another, we have to decide—are we going to settle for the ways of the past, or join the pioneers of the future? Only time will tell.