As if clinical researchers and managers didn’t already have enough to worry about, now add activity trackers to the list.

Smartwatches, Fitbits and similar trackers have the potential to influence behavior, which matters in studies where physical activity is a study endpoint. (An endpoint in a clinical study is an event used to objectively measure the effect of a drug or other intervention.)

If the level of activity is an endpoint in a study of, say, a drug to improve fatigue, researchers need to be able to say that it is the drug that has made the difference. But anyone who has ever used a Fitbit or other activity tracker know how engaging – addicting, even – they can be. They prod you to get in that 10,000 steps with encouraging messages like, “Only 789 steps to reach your goal.”

As an article on the Clinical Research News website says, “Use of the devices could result in ‘activity peaks’ and ‘activity plateaus’ driven not by drug efficacy but as a response to the smartwatch/fitness tracker targets.”

In other words, who’s to say the increased physical activity was the result of the drug or the tracker prodding?

Before commercial trackers became so ubiquitous, researchers gave study volunteers devices that accumulated the data, but without making it visible to them. Commercial trackers make everything visible.

Besides simply counting steps, sophisticated wearables measure all sorts of activity related variables like heart rate, duration, intensity, distance, sleep and more. Because participants in studies of physical activity are able to see this data they can skew the results by working to reach targets and earn badges.

The authors of the article – “The Potential Of Activity Trackers To Bias Study Results” – suggest a number of measures researchers can take to mitigate the influence of these devices including prohibiting participants from wearing them, establishing baseline physical activity levels and choosing endpoints less likely to be influenced by the trackers.

Ultimately, the writers say, “Additional research is needed in this arena… More certain is that the unblinding of study data could have far-reaching if unintended consequences by introducing bias into the data analysis process.”

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash


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Employers Need to Prepare For Virus Spread

While the US has so far seen few cases of the coronavirus, employers need to plan should the situation change, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent briefing.

“Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, community schools, and everyday people to begin preparing,” said CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes. Employers should “begin to respond in a flexible way to differing levels of severity, to refine their business response plans as needed.”

Among the suggestions, the CDC urged businesses to “replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options.”

Officially designated COVID-19, the virus has killed almost 3,000 people, mostly in China, and has been detected in several dozen countries. In the US there has been one death among the 60 confirmed cases (as of late last week). Most of those were among passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and those repatriated from China.

Last week the California Department of Public Health reported the first case of person-to-person transmission in which the infected person had not traveled abroad or was known to have been in contact with an infected person. Since then at least one additional case of unknown origin has been discovered.

It’s important, however, to put the situation into perspective. According to the CDC, since October, at least 32,000,000 Americans have come down with the common flu, killing 18,000. Flu has a fatality rate of less than 0.1%.

The coronavirus has a higher death rate, now estimated to be 1.4%, but that’s down from initial reports putting it at 2%. Even that may overstating the rate, infectious disease experts say.

What’s different is that the coronavirus appears to be more contagious, plus so much less is known about how and when infected persons can transmit it to others. The CDC warned of the uncertainty in its briefing Feb. 26. “During an outbreak with a new virus, there is a lot of uncertainty. Our guidance and advice are likely to be fluid, subject to change as we learn more.”

Companies in Europe have sent thousands of workers home and a British TV company has begun screening visitors at some of its European offices, barring those who recently visited countries where the virus has gained a foothold.

Few companies in the US have yet taken such extreme measures, though so many companies pulled out of the annual Games Developer Conference in San Francisco later this month that it was cancelled.

Should the virus spread – and the CDC said to expect it will — businesses could be ordered to close. Travel restrictions likely would be imposed.

“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare with the expectation that this could be bad,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC told reporters.

Joseph Deng, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles,told the Society for Human Resource Management employers should appoint a team to deal with the possibility the virus will disrupt operations. He recommends including HR, legal and IT.

If the company already has a disaster preparedness plan, the team should use that as a starting point, Deng said. Many disaster plans assume a short term event. With a pandemic, the impact is likely to be much longer, as we’ve seen in China. Thus it is essential employers plan both for the short and long term.

Attorney Mark J. Neuberger with Foley and Lardner has a list of specific steps businesses should already be taking. Besides banning travel to virus hotspots, he recommends appointing someone to check the CDC website daily for the latest news on the virus’ spread.

As important as developing or updating a response plan is communicating it to employees. Reassure them the company is taking appropriate precautions and have managers explain the plan and how it will work.

This is also a good opportunity to remind workers of basic sanitary practices including thoroughly washing hands and avoiding close contact. More specific details are available on the OSHA website.

Photo by Anton on Unsplash


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Do You Really Want to Be a Manager?

It’s flattering to be offered a management promotion. It shows the confidence your boss has in you, and the bump in your paycheck would certainly be welcome.

But before you say yes, take a deep breath and think about what it means. Not everyone wants to be a manager. Not everyone who is a manager should be one.

Being a manager comes with dramatically different responsibilities. Instead of being responsible only for yourself, as a manager you’re responsible for the work of a team. You’ll be dealing with different personalities and styles. You’ll face pressure from your boss to meet a whole range of new measures. Besides getting projects done on deadline, there will be budget considerations and quality standards. At the same time, you’ll hear from your reports about being pushed too hard or not getting the resources they insist they need.

You’ll be expected to coach your team, supporting them and giving them the feedback they need and want. At times, that means delivering feedback about poor performance. As a CNN Business article points out, you have to sometimes be willing to be seen as the guy delivering bad news.

Says Leigh Steere, co-founder of research group Managing People Better, “The No. 1 task that managers shy away from is confronting poor performance.

“They may be conflict avoidant. Some say ‘I’m not comfortable judging others.’ Or they want to be viewed as a nice manager. [But] it is not nice to withhold feedback from somebody that they need to learn and grow.”

The skills it takes to be a great manager are far different from those of being a great worker. Too often companies promote great workers because they perform at the top of the curve, only to discover that as a manager their performance is lacking at which point their rise in the organization halts — or worse.

While management training can make a difference, too often this training is limited to legal issues and administrative procedures. Even when the training includes coaching and feedback and similar matters, it takes constant reinforcement and personal commitment to be effective.

So when the opportunity comes along, think it through. Ask managers you respect for advice. Discuss with your boss the changes you’ll need to make. Then ask yourself, are you willing to give up what you do in order to manage others? Is that you?

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash


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