Almost every employer understands the benefits of engaging employees in wellness. These benefits include a potential saving of 1600 ($2461.60) per employee per year from the reductions in absenteeism and presenteeism[i]. In spite of this, a new study revealed that two out of five employees say that their employer offers no health and wellness benefits.
Out of the companies that do, up to 86 percent of employees don't participate because they just don't have the time[ii]. The rise in technology especially with wearable tech is shaping wellness for the 21st century, making it fun, increasing engagement and fitting fitness into busy lifestyles. Wearable tech companies such as Fitbit, Fitbug and Jawbone are paving the way in fitness trackers and innovation is set to increase with the recent release of the Apple watch.
What are wearables?
Wearable technology allows people to keep track of things that they otherwise would not be able to quantify. For example location, distance travelled, sleep, calories burned and steps taken are among some of the main features people track. With wearable technology shipments predicted to be 150 million in 2015 up from 50 million in 2013, this year will be the year of the wearables with an increased uptake amongst employees[iii].
Why 33 percent abandon their device in 6 months
Despite 2015 being the year of wearables, research shows that nearly one-third of people who own a fitness tracker or smart watch abandon the device within six to twelve months. To put it another way, at least 33 percent of employees may need more than just a smartwatch or fitness tracker to help them commit[iv].
Additionally, research by the University of Pennsylvania, highlights that "the gap between recording information and changing behaviour is substantial"[v]. The study concludes that, the fitness tracker alone will not drive behavioural change for those who truly need it.
One theory is that a percentage of those that are successful using fitness trackers synch their device to applications for a feedback loop and are already into fitness. Using wearable to supplement an already fit lifestyle will lead to better results but this may not target those employees who truly need the help like the 33 percent who give up on their wearable after 6 months.
The University of Pennsylvania study points out that the combinations of individual encouragement, social competition and collaboration, and effective feedback loops-that connect with human behaviour aids sustainable changes. An approach to understanding the lack of long-term commitment can be understood by looking into the six scientific approaches to weight lose motivation.
These include exercising willpower, visualising goals, setting goals, making a public commitment and using role models for motivation[vi]. This means that, those who truly need it, especially in the initial stages will require support. Support can come from family and friends, colleagues, and experts like personal trainers. The support, according to the scientific approaches, must help aid goals creation, public commitment, will power and create a positive feedback loop.
Some applications that fitness trackers synch to do not do that, as it is something very personal to the individual, this can lead to just data being created and not presented to the user in the way that leads to the behavioural changes that employers want.
Solutions that add value
Some employers understand this and do not want to alienate those hardest to reach by forcing a wellness culture on them when the tools needed to achieve it are absent. Some employers currently encourage wearables and also offer workshops and quantified tests like medical screening services that can detect early signs of long-term illnesses. These approaches help those that truly need it make that initial step and get the help they need along the way.
There are also corporate wellness start-ups trying to solve the problem of long-term commitment. They do this by combining the data from fitness trackers with weight loss experts who can analyse that data and give personalised advice and feedback in application format. These startups present the data in a way that is easily digestible as well as providing coaching based on the data to give real actionable points and feedback.
Companies such as RetrofitMe in California, Dongu in London and nextsteps.io in Iowa are amongst the front line of companies changing how employees engage in wellness. If an employee goes out of their way to buy a fitness tracker or one is given to them by their employer and they accept it, this shows their will for change. Employers should consider any application that increases the likelihood of the fitness tracker leading to sustainable results long term, even if it supplements a gym package.
The start-ups mentioned help those who need it by allowing the employee to commit to a real weight loss expert and in some cases their colleagues. The applications adds value to the fitness trackers, with Dongu, employees can commit to live healthier on certain days of the week, if they do, their weight loss coach and colleagues will know via their fitness tracker and offer feedback.
Dongu and RetrofitMe both offer coaching via in-app video conferencing software allowing for people to see who is helping them and conveniently get advice and actionable plans. Weight loss coaching is the use of personal coaching techniques to bring about long-term sustainable weight loss. Applications that create competition based on the fitness trackers can also have a positive effect on employees. Competitions can be based on data like distance walked and calories burned.
Start-ups that offer competitions in the workplace can add value, companies such as Myrallyfit allow employees to create their own teams. This is a beneficial as research shows some competitions can alienate people who need it, especially if they are not losing weight as fast as others, but, if the employee is building their own support network via the application, this can add real value to the fitness tracker[vii].
Forward thinking employers are implementing solutions like the ones mentioned to drive sustainable engagement. I predict the future of wellness will be highly technological with applications that offer personalised advice through smart watches, connect employees and allow employers to track engagement. What are your thoughts?
[i] Department for Work and Pensions. (2013). Workplace wellbeing tool. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/workplace-wellbeing-tool. Last accessed 14th March 2015
[ii] Global Corporate Challenge (GCC). (2015). 2013 Global Workplace Health and Wellness report. A global analysis of how organisations are implementing wellness initiatives to create long-term employee health behaviour change.. 1 (2), 2.
[iii] Statista. (2015). Shipments of wearable computing devices worldwide by category from 2013 to 2015 (in millions). Available: http://www.statista.com/statistics/302684/wearable-devices-shipments-worldwide-by-category/. Last accessed 14th March 2015.
[iv] Endeavour Partners LLC. (2014). Inside Wearables. How the Science of Human Behavior Change Offers the Secret to Long-Term Engagement. 1 (1), p5.
[v] University of Pennsylvania. (2015). Wearable Tracking Devices Alone Won't Drive Health Behavior Change, According to Penn Researchers. Available: http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2015/01/wearables/. Last accessed 14th March 2015.
[vi] Brooks, J. (2014). 6 Scientific Methods For Getting Motivation to Lose Weight. Available: http://comfortpit.com/motivation-to-lose-weight/. Last accessed 14th March 2015.
[vii] Senn, K. (2015). Are "Biggest Loser" Competitions Healthy for Workplace Wellness?. Available: http://enterprise.thefitlife.com/corporate-wellness-blog/2015/2/27/are-biggest-loser-competitions-healthy-for-workplace-wellness. Last accessed 14th March 2015.