Eye-tracking technology is used by marketing professionals for consumer research, by psychologists and neuroscientists to study behavior, by web designers to improve user experience, and by doctors to diagnose illness. It also has applications in the workplace, especially when it comes to training and employee safety.

Improving Performance and Safety

“This technology connects employers to employees in a way that was never possible before,” says Mike Bartels, senior research director at Tobii Pro Insight. “Imagine if there was a way for your new hires to literally see the job that they will be performing through the eyes of your most experienced, high-performing employee.” With eye-tracking technology, you can literally see what another person is seeing.

Similarly, researchers at the FLiX Research Centre for Life Cycle Excellence at the Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences found “that using the eye tracking technique as a possible application to optimize processes in the engineering environment is possible.” They noted, however, that simply introducing eye-tracking glasses to the process “is not enough to receive a sufficient answer to complex questions in a manufacturing process” but should rather be used in addition to other evaluation methods.

In a review of existing research, investigators at the University of Central Florida found that eye-tracking technology can help measure cognitive load using data on pupil response and gaze. The researchers recommended that organizations incorporate it into adaptive learning, to help personalize learning.

The ability to “see” through another person’s eyes also means that you can identify where errors occur. For example, Bartels says, H&H Castings used eye-tracking technology in its metal casting factory “to understand how visual attention impacts worker safety in such a high-risk, dangerous job.” Applying what they learned using the technology, H&H Castings leaders are working to lower the risk of accidents, create efficiencies in operations and improve new-hire training.

“Deep analysis of employee attention from eye-tracking can provide powerful insights into rules, regulations and best practices in the workplace,” says Bartels. For example, a car manufacturer used eye-tracking to identify where errors occurred during the visual inspection process for newly painted cars. The company, according to Bartels, “reported a 50-percent decrease in visual inspection errors after implementing eye-tracking.”

An Invasion of Privacy?

Bartels says that a common misconception about eye-tracking is that companies do it without employee consent. However, “in eye-tracking testing, employees must be wearing or seated in front of an eye-tracker, and they must complete a quick calibration process to make sure the tracking is working properly.” There’s no way to track employees’ eyes, in other words, without their agreement.

On the other hand, Lew Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, told OZY in 2017, “Employers have misused every monitoring technology ever invented, and there’s no reason to think they won’t misuse this one too.” What if, instead of using eye-tracking technology to identify patterns across the workforce, it singles out one particular employee to “look at [his or her] every eye movement throughout the day”?

As with most technologies, eye-tracking comes with a decision: Are the benefits worth the potential privacy concerns?

Implementing Eye-tracking at Work

In the case of health and safety, the answer might be “yes.” According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an average of more than 14 workers were killed on the job per day in 2017. Some companies may decide that possible privacy concerns are a small price to pay to keep their employees safe (and performing well).

If your company does decide to try eye-tracking, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • First, make sure you’re tracking metrics so you can measure ROI. Is the cost of the technology (and any privacy concerns your employees do have) worth the benefits? Track errors, safety incidents and other metrics before and after implementation.
  • Start small. Identify one area where workers are more accident- or error-prone, and use it as a trial run of eye-tracking.
  • Don’t use the technology 40 hours a week, Bartels says. “Collect the attention data when it is convenient for both employee and employer.”
  • Stay up to date on the technology. As with any type of technology, it can become more effective and cheaper.
  • Actually use the data you collect to improve the workplace. Nothing will change if you don’t take action; if you spot areas where safety is a concern, make the necessary improvements. If you see that certain steps of a process are more prone to error, use that information to improve your training on that process.