Have you ever run or walked a 5K? Did you wonder how they knew your standing in the race?
It was because your race bib had a sensor—or “wearable technology”—that was activated as soon as you hit the start line and also registered when you hit the finish line. That data was sent to the run’s database and a day or so later it was available to you.
With the popularity of wearable technologies, some companies also have begun providing incentives or reimbursements to employees who use company-issued wearable technologies such as a FitBit. This strategy ultimately saves companies money since it helps employees to better understand their own health habits. In addition, studies show that people who actively use wearable technology devices and food tracking apps, have lower health care costs than those who do not.
But what would this do for employee morale? Wearable devices may not be the best fit for all companies; however, it is a great way for a company to demonstrate the value it places on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It also fosters friendly conversation and competition among employees using the same type of wearable device.
One criticism of wearable technology is that it is a bit too “Big Brotherish.” Remember that you will never have a 100 percent employee adoption rate with any company initiative despite your best efforts. I believe many companies also see more positives than negatives from implementing wearable technology programs. At some of my colleagues’ workplaces, we have discussed possibly integrating this type of technology into our wellness program as a way for employees to better understand their activity level, calorie consumption, food quality decisions, and overall health. Healthy employees are much less likely to miss work and are also more productive.
Another perk of wearable technology is that the data is extremely accurate—data that an employee’s healthcare provider can use to understand a patient’s daily routine and to determine why a patient is reporting a certain ailment. For example, a physical therapist may prescribe a patient to walk two miles per day. When the patient comes in for a follow up visit, the therapist can check on that patient’s progress with the help of the wearable device data and adjust a diagnosis accordingly. From the employer perspective, the patient comes back to work at the right time, decreasing the possibility of relapse and workday absences.
However, not every company has the financial wherewithal to implement such a program. If that is the case, smaller wellness programs can be put in place, such as once-a-month nutritional counseling or reduced-price fitness classes.
Ultimately, companies have to decide if providing wearable technologies to employees is a necessary step to better the health of their workforce.
Carolyn Broderick is a senior consultant with DeFoe Associates, LLC and a member of SHRM’s Technology and HR Management Special Expertise Panel.