How Fitness Trackers Can Boost Employee Wellness

By Aliah D. Wright Oct 23, 2015
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LAS VEGAS—Companies that help their workers to become healthier may boost their employee engagement levels and their profits—and could improve retention as well. Technology is proving to be an important driver in these corporate wellness programs.

During Human Resource Executive’s 18th Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition, Marci Cooper, manager of employee wellness at Indiana University Health, and Heather Kennedy, director of customer success at Fitbit Wellness, discussed how companies can incorporate devices like the Fitbit to improve employee wellness and cut health care costs.

Since 2014, 10,000 of the more than 28,000 employees at Indiana University Health have signed up for the nonprofit academic medical health center’s wellness program. As a result, participating employees, as a group, reduced their body mass index by 40 percent. What’s more, 90 percent of those who participated and used the Fitbit said they would continue the healthy lifestyle changes they made because of using the Fitbit.

“If everyone is healthier, we’re going to spend less money on health care,” Cooper said.

According to the 2015 Strategic Benefits survey findings released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on Oct. 15, 69 percent of HR professionals surveyed said that their organization offered some type of wellness program, resource or service to its workers. And 40 percent of HR professionals from organizations that offered employee wellness initiatives said that their company increased its investment in these offerings in 2015.

“We believe very strongly that taking small changes and small steps can lead to a lifetime improvement,” said Kennedy.

And Fitbit employees seemingly walk the walk (no pun intended):

“Recently we just finished our ‘Steptember’ challenge where the entire company was competing to win a badge, bragging rights and fun prizes,” Kennedy said. The company’s more than 900 employees collectively took 268 million steps during the initiative.

And on Workout Wednesdays, employees can “come in and wear their fitness gear [and participate in] workout programs,” she said.

Fitbit employees also have treadmill desks and stand-up desks, and are encouraged to use the stairs instead of elevators.

Other companies such as Apple, Jawbone and Garmin, also make fitness trackers that organizations can use to encourage employees to move.

After all, “there’s no one device that’s going to win in the enterprise,” said Henry Albrecht, CEO of the social well-being platform Limeade. Limeade encourages the use of a wide range of activities and devices.

“Everyone can compete in a step challenge—whether they have a Fitbit or not.”

These kinds of programs may also ultimately help with employee retention.

According to the 2013 Principal Financial Well-Being Index, 45 percent of employees agreed that an employer-sponsored wellness program would be an incentive for them to stay in their current employment situation (up from 40 percent who said this in 2011).

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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