Your Boss Can Now Monitor Your Mood On Slack, With Help Of A.I.

Watch your tone or the workplace morale police could pay a visit

Illustration R. A. Di Ieso
Apr 18, 2017 at 1:57 PM ET

Workplace surveillance has become a particularly dystopian trend in the era of big data, allowing employers to micro-manage workers by tracking everything from their snack consumption to fine-grained details about their movements and productivity throughout the day.

Now, a new artificial intelligence tool is letting companies monitor their employees’ moods and emotions by analyzing their conversations on Slack.

A Japan-based company called AIR has been pitching the technology, Vibe, as a way to measure company morale in real-time using a process called sentiment analysis. The software monitors Slack conversations and automatically track their overall mood based on five emotions: happiness, stress, disappointment, irritation, and disapproval. It then plots these feelings on a graph, allowing managers to track down the cause of mood swings throughout the work day.

Popular chat software like Slack, Campfire, and Hipchat automatically keep logs of all conversations by default, and it’s generally known that anything you write in your company’s Slack can be seen by your employer. The chat logs are also visible to Slack itself, as well as any law enforcement agency that obtains them with a subpoena — as employees of Gawker learned when their Slack logs were used as evidence during a high-profile lawsuit that ended in the company’s dissolution.

This all assumes that your employer or the police have a reason to look at your chat conversations. But with a mood analysis bot like Vibe running all the time, it could become easier for your boss to zoom in on complaints and office gossip.

Of course, that’s sort of the whole point, according to AIR’s chief operating officer, Frederic Peyrot.

“Conducting weekly one-on-ones when you have 20 or more people in your team is impractical. Therefore, we designed Vibe as a tool to help managers follow the morale of their team, see what causes the team vibe to rise, but also be notified when the morale drops,” Peyrot told ZDNet.

He noted that Vibe only does mood analysis on a company’s “public” Slack channels, and doesn’t scan direct, private messages between employees. The emotional data is also available to all team members as well as managers, for transparency.

Still, there are good reasons to worry that the emotional data tracked by tools like Vibe could be used by companies as another form of leverage over employees. Other workplace surveillance technologies like Humanyze use electronic badges to track workers’ physical movements throughout the day, and use the resulting data to assess their productivity from moment to moment. And some employers have adopted so-called “workplace wellness” programs which demand access to workers’ health information, including their DNA, which can be used to discriminate or raise health insurance premiums.