Wellness in the workplace is a huge and growing trend these days. Makes sense, right? A healthier employee is a happier employee—and also a more productive one. That’s why employers are introducing wellness programs in droves, and at the same time turning to technology as a tool to monitor, promote, and reward their employees’ fitness achievements.
Currently, 70 percent of U.S. employers offer a wellness program, an increase from 58 percent in 2008. It’s no secret that investing in employee wellness is worthwhile in the long run. Not only do wellness programs help employers to lower healthcare costs and reduce sick days, but research shows they improve employee engagement and retention as well.
Getting employees to take advantage of a wellness program is not a slam-dunk, however. Participation is sometimes low, with employees citing lack of time or interest as two of the primary reasons. That’s where technology comes in, making getting involved easier for employees—and a whole lot more fun.
The fun kicks in courtesy of a group dynamic that promotes good-natured competition to achieve wellness goals, which aligns with another trend among employers: offering rewards or bonuses to employees who complete health and wellness objectives. Currently, four in 10 employers offer these types of incentives, with another 8 percent planning to implement them within the next year.
So, just how does the latest technology help get—and keep—employees healthy, thereby boosting employer profit wellness? Let’s examine the various options.
At any gathering of a half-dozen or more employees, look at their wrists; chances are at least one will be wearing a fitness tracker. Nearly 40 million American adults are currently using such devices, and that figure is expected to double within the next three years.
The most popular brand is Fitbit, but companies like Garmin, Apple, Jawbone, and Misfit are also in the wearable tracker game. These devices allow employees to monitor various fitness activities, such as how many steps they’ve taken, how many flights of stairs they’ve climbed, and how many calories they’ve burned. Such measurables lend themselves nicely to interoffice competition. Whoever comes out on top will earn company bragging rights—or something more tangible like a trophy or monetary prize.
One savvy move for employers wanting to increase workplace awareness is to subsidize wearable trackers for their employees. A lot of companies do that—not only for their employees but sometimes even for employees’ spouses or partners. Whether companies pay for the devices or employees do so themselves, expectations are that wearable technology usage will continue to rise. Xerox Human Resources Services conducted a 2015 survey of 200+ employers, in which 37 percent reported using wearable technology; another 37 percent said they were planning to adopt the technology in the years ahead.
Gamification marries technology and game-playing in a way that engages participants and helps them achieve their goals. There are three components of an effective gamification strategy: rules, rewards, and social interaction. The best thing about gamification is that it is a great motivator. Participants strive to win a challenge, whether it’s losing weight, eating healthier, or achieving measurable fitness goals.
Implementing a gamification strategy with monthly or quarterly incentives is a great way for employers to build a wellness-oriented culture. With the camaraderie and feedback that such competitions generate, employees have stronger incentives to reach their goals.
Apps for fitness trackers are just one of many tools that allow employees to monitor their health. There are mental health apps like Headspace, which features proven meditation and mindfulness techniques. Sleep apps, which track users sleeping habits and in some cases help them drift off to sleep with calming music, words, and sound effects are popular. And food tracking/nutrition apps, which keep tabs on caloric intake and the nutritional content of the food the user eats. Wellness-minded employers will encourage employee use of those apps that best fit the fitness and health objectives of the workplace.
There is also technology that allows employers to analyze their wellness programs and redirect them to meet the needs of their employees better. It’s not just about return on investment, but also about employee satisfaction. Analytics allow employers to pinpoint aspects of their wellness program that are receiving less-than-favorable ratings. Responsive employers will then use this information to make modifications that will improve their employees’ satisfaction and boost participation.
Dr. Rajiv Kumar, founder/CEO of corporate wellness platform ShapeUp, identifies social interaction as the biggest technological trend over the past decade. How do you add social interaction to a workplace wellness program? Kumar recommends focusing on these four elements: peer coaching, friendly competition, group support, and social accountability. There are many social tools for encouraging interaction, including apps, forums, and Facebook groups—to name just a few. Social media has the power to drive such interaction, which increases employee interest and ultimately determines the success of a corporate wellness program.
In the future, we expect even more employers to adopt wellness programs. And why wouldn’t they? With technology advancing so rapidly, the ease of implementation is great—and the rewards for employer and employee even greater.