Wearable technology: what’s the impact on workplace wellbeing?

Wearable technology
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Digital technology is changing how we operate and make decisions every day. In an ‘always connected environment’, we’re seeing apps and wearables playing a more prominent role than ever before.

This article was co-authored by Glenn Rankin, CEO of Healthia; Nick Court, Director of The People Experience Hub; and Paul Nash, Head of Clinical Governance at roadtohealth Group Ltd.

Most leading organisations already have a sophisticated digital strategy in place but does this ring true of their approach to wellbeing? How can we use digital developments to promote wellbeing and make a difference to ROI?

The fastest growth in wellbeing programmes over the coming years is expected to be in employers offering more access to health and wellbeing apps (112%), virtual GPs (40.5%) and wearable devices (37%) according to a 2017 REBA study.

It has been estimated by pwc that by 2020, more than 75 million wearables globally will permeate the workplace. With almost half of our employees (45%) wearing a fitness band and one in four (27%) wearing a smart watch, it’s surely ignorant and un-opportunistic not to tap into this and use the data to better inform, manage, motivate and evaluate wellbeing.

After all, without the insights and data to understand your team’s health and wellbeing, how can you really improve it?

Data Data Data: evidence-based wellbeing

We’re seeing more need for evidence based decisions in HR and wellbeing has to deliver results. Employers are turning to wellbeing apps and wearables to not only provide engagement data but to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of a wellbeing programme in improving health outcomes.

We’re seeing businesses thinking and acting more proactively and using data to prevent health issues before they arise by targeting their wellbeing spend where it’s needed the most.

HR analytics enables companies to develop and understand at a far more personal level their employee value proposition when it comes to wellbeing, this means that we can use data in the now to get insights that are actionable and can drive a better employee experience.

Ultimately wellbeing has to be cost effective. The data should provide important insights on how to invest your wellbeing budget to bring maximum benefits to both the employee and the business.

Driving engagement in your wellbeing culture

So, what if you could use a platform or wearable to assess your overall team health status then drive engagement in your wellbeing agenda to create a positive culture of wellbeing?

Profiling employees’ health and lifestyle status through health risk assessments is the first place to start, so finding an app or platform that does this whilst syncing with a wearable is the foundation of your wellbeing programme.

It informs the wellbeing strategy and allows the employer to identify where the risk hot-spots are hiding  - hypertension, high blood glucose and cholesterol, obesity, stress, anxiety and burn-out - the real hard-nosed drivers of ill health causing low productivity and absenteeism. It’s the first step of any sound wellbeing strategy.

There’s not a lot of point in wasting valuable money pushing physical activity in the marketing department if everyone's down the gym every night, but if they're all stressed out and not sleeping in finance, then it could be time for some emotional wellbeing and sleep coaching.

Formula for success – measure, motivate & monitor

Wearables have been shown to boost employee productivity by 8.5% and job satisfaction levels by 3% according to a study by Goldsmiths. But with an app for everything from sleep to sushi, and the range of wearables available, how can we ensure we’re investing in the right area to improve health outcomes and bring maximum return?

Here are six key considerations to make before investing in wearables for your workplace:

1. Key metrics

The wellbeing app should monitor and collect key metrics such as daily exercise, calories burned, sleep, emotional wellbeing and even CO2 savings through green travel. The results will help you to understand the wellbeing of the workforce and drive employee engagement by motivating employees to get moving.

2. Minutes, not steps

Look for an app which measures activity based on the government recommendations of 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate or vigorous activity a week. It’s far more accurate than simply measuring 10,000 steps.

3. Privacy standards

Ensure the app you choose uses the data from wearables in an aggravated and anonymised way to reassure employees that they are the only ones with access to their personal data and that you’re complying with privacy standards.

4. Increased accuracy

Whilst many apps work with a smartphone, integrating a wearable will improve accuracy and ensure you get maximum data when tracking activity. Select a health app that syncs with most wearables such as Fitbit or Garmin so you can make the most of the employees in your workforce who already own one.

Two in three employees want their company to pay for wearables and this is higher amongst millennials (71%) and males (70%) so you may consider providing wearables as part of your wellbeing programme or offer them as an incentive for achieving physical activity targets.

5. Team challenges

Apps with built in challenges and gamification are great for driving engagement in your wellbeing programme. Challenges can be team, CEO-led, inter-department or individual challenges. Consider what works best for your organisation and plan a challenge calendar.

6. Company incentives

Incentives and rewards are associated with a higher participation rate in wellness programmes by 20% (RAND), so build incentives into your wellbeing programme via the app.

The more sophisticated apps will allow you to build in bespoke incentives, tailored to the nature of your business and budget. Employees collect points for meeting activity levels and redeem rewards that can include anything from a donation to their charity of choice, leaving an hour early, vouchers, fast-queue lunch vouchers, fitness equipment or clothing.

So, with the wellbeing app and wearable all set up, what sort of outcomes can you expect and how should you measure success? Sophisticated health apps will collect data from the wearable which will enable you to analyse the anonymised data and show trends that were simply not possible before, these include:

  • Health risk scores

  • Activity minutes and points

  • Participation in challenges and incentives

  • Inter department comparisons

  • Sleep data

  • Absenteeism and productivity

  • Rates of retention

  • CO2 saving from green travel

Say goodbye to ticking the ‘wellbeing box’

It’s clear that it’s no longer enough to simply tick the wellbeing box with gym memberships, fruit and fitness classes. The health conscious, connected employee is demanding much more from their wellbeing and there lies your opportunity to support them on the journey and incentivise, monitor and reward them towards better health and fitness.

Say hello to a preventative, data-driven wellbeing era. It’s time to get moving and reap the rewards.


About Glenn Rankin

About Glenn Rankin

Healthia is a collaboration between two established pioneers in the employee benefit and healthtech sectors. Incorpore have been providing corporate gym memberships to employers and insurers since 2001. For the past 15 years Roadtohealth have developed the award winning and clinically valid Q Score™ and more recent Quealth™ app, which has been a widely used health metric in the insurance market. Our goal is to improve the health and wellbeing of your employees. We deliver technology that makes health simple to understand and engaging to all.


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