Digital fitness trackers are the latest to make inroads into the employee wellness segment. Studies indicate that over 13 million such wearable activity-tracking devices will be streamlined into employee wellness programs by 2018. This figure hovered around a mere 200,000 in 2013.
A 'wearable' is a device that one can wear and has the ability to record data pertaining to the wearer's health and exercise schedule. Having evolved tremendously from their predecessors like pedometers, the wearables seen today are way more accurate and user-friendly though simple in design. Heart rate monitors, blood pressure monitors, and activity trackers along with related smartphone apps fall under this category.
More and more people want information on the amount of calories they burned and when their heart rate rises, and with wearable devices it has become very easy to track these. The results from traditional wellness programs have been lower than expected and quite often not ensured adequate return on investment.
Corporations are gradually realizing the potential benefits of integrating digital trackers into their wellness programs. These affordable, lightweight devices can be turned into a powerful tool to ensure that employees, especially those in sedentary jobs, get going.
With heart disease and cancer causing one in two deaths across the world, such programs assume a whole new meaning. Disease prevention is key to the well-being of a company's workforce and this can be achieved more effectively through continuous monitoring outside the healthcare environment.
Digital devices and wearable technology also have the upper hand as far as improving awareness among employees is concerned. The employer also stands to benefit from these devices and programs in terms of lower health insurance premiums, a healthier and engaged workforce, and increased productivity. More and more companies are coming up with statistics that indicate an increase in corporate profitability due to effective wellness programs at the workplace.
Keeping Employees Engaged
In order to ensure that employees reap all the benefits of wearables, it is necessary to come up with a sustainable plan to keep them engaged once the novelty wears off. A transparent approach and being supportive of employees is crucial here. Some steps that can help achieve this are:
- Drawing up a wellness program which covers all employees irrespective of their current health situation
- Tying up incentives such as rewards and premium discounts with the wellness plan
- Offering customized options so employees can choose one that fits them best
- Engaging activities which keep employees involved in the long term
- Seeking feedback on the program. This will reassure employees that their suggestions and complaints are being taken into consideration and acted upon if required
Motivating employees to share goals with a group or via social media networks has been seen to push up commitment to wearables. Almost all the activity trackers in the market today make it very easy to share this information. Another plus point is that these devices promote goal reinforcement because they are always on thus helping the user monitor their progress at all times and keep their goals in sight.
Tracking the success of employee wellness programs is not an easy task but is essential to gauge effectiveness. An analysis conducted by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) indicates that planned wellness programs have been successful in cutting down on lost work days by as much as 80 percent over a period of six years and reducing workers' compensation premiums by half. Some yardsticks that can help measure program success are:
- Awareness about benefits and healthcare: It has been seen that employees who are part of wellness programs have greater knowledge about benefits and healthcare, which helps them, make smarter choices in this regard. This is directly linked to the company's investment in benefits and attempts to popularize these benefits.
- Levels of employee satisfaction: Research indicates that employees enrolled in company-sponsored wellness initiatives are happier with their jobs and benefits than others, making them more likely to stick with their current employer. This again impacts the company's bottom line because finding a replacement for an experienced but disgruntled worker is an expensive process.
- Continued employee well-being: Employees with chronic health issues can be a strain on the company. It is estimated that lost productivity costs due to poor health touch more than $150 billion annually.
Recent healthcare reform provisions are also leaning towards promotion of wellness programs at the workplace. Insurance rate differentiation based on employee participation in these programs and higher rates for employees who use tobacco are some examples.
In this changing scenario, it is essential to work with an organization that understands the wellness needs of your company and its employees. With the range of activity trackers and wearables available in the market today, it has become very easy to integrate such devices into corporate wellness programs. All it requires is some initiative and drive on the part of companies to encourage their employees to opt for healthier behavioral changes.
About the Author
Srinivasa Vanukuri, Founder, Wellness 360 Inc. (Srini@wellness360.co)
Wellness 360 strongly feels that wearables play a crucial role in improving health. The Wellness 360 platform makes it easy for organizations to customize their wellness program in all aspects such as social wellness, gamification, and tying the rewards with participation and outcomes by integrating with all major apps and devices.
This encourages program participants to BYOD / BYOA (Bring Your Own Device or App) to join in the wellness challenges and reap rewards. A look at wellness360.co will give you an idea of how this works.