Using Wearable Devices to Help Promote Employee Wellness

Wearable technology allows you to ensure employees are keeping active and sleeping well and may be the key to worker productivity.

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By Lisa Evans

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

From smartphone apps that tell you how healthy your food is to wristbands that track your activity and sleeping patterns, technology is increasingly making living healthier easier. With the importance of employee health emphasized, one trend is quickly catching on among HR departments as a way to encourage employees to get fit: wearable wellness.

According to ABI Research, 13 million wearable devices will be integrated into corporate-wellness plans over the next five years. Encouraging employees to use wearable fitness devices, such as Jawbone's UP 24 activity tracker, Nike's FuelBands or Fitbits, to track their movement, sleep and eating habits and share their accomplishments with their colleagues can motivate your entire office to lead a healthier office, resulting in less sick days, lower health insurance premiums and higher productivity.

Aron Susman, co-founder of The SquareFoot, a Houston, Texas-based company that connects landlords with businesses searching for space, provided his 11 employees with Jawbone UP bands. (Seven opted into the program.) "We decided to provide them after I got one as a gift. I really got into it and quickly integrated it into my lifestyle," he says.

For Susman, quantifying his movements gave him the motivation need to stay active. "I set my goal at 8,000 steps a day and felt really good at achieving that goal," he says. "On a lazy Sunday, where I might normally binge-watch TV, I didn't want to see zero steps, so I get up and go for a walk or a run."

Wearable technology allows users to track their steps, physical activity, sleep patterns and even food consumption. Users can set alerts to remind them to stand up after long periods of sitting, or drink more water throughout the day. They also allow users to connect with each other and form teams.

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Providing UP bands for all employees was a way of showing them the company cares about their physical well-being and has helped The SquareFoot stand out as an employer. Incorporating wearable wellness into health programs can be a selling point when trying to attract and retain talent. "It is a totally different type of investment than paying for a gym membership because it becomes a talking point in the office. It also shows you are willing to try new things and create a team over and beyond just professional responsibilities," says Susman.

Alan Kohll, founder and CEO of TotalWellness, which works with employers to implement programs that improve employees' health and wellness, says wearable devices are a valuable tool to improve employee health and productivity. Here, he shares his tips on how to integrate wearable wellness in your corporate wellness program:

1. Create fun team challenges. Wearable devices allow users to form teams and work together towards a common goal. This not only improves employee motivation to use their devices, but has a positive impact on overall office morale. Kohll has seen team challenges such as hitting 10,000 steps per day or monthly goals such as 5 million steps a month.

If you have two offices, one in New York and one in California, for example, a challenge that involves the number of steps to get from one office to another can be a fun way to connect employees across the country. Employees can send out messages to motivate each other towards the common goal of improving their health, which not only results in an improvement in employee well-being, but greater productivity and a better work environment where team members feel supported.

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2. Provide incentives to participate. Reducing health premiums for individuals who participate in using their fitness trackers is one way to encourage participation, although Kohll says the team challenges can provide a better opportunity to dole out incentives that speak to employees. He encourages managers to conduct a survey to find out what employees really value. "It could be having more flexibility in their job, working a day from home or paid time off," he says.

3. Make wearable devices part of company culture. One of the great selling points of wearable devices is that users can build in reminders to buzz the wearer if they've been idle for too many hours. Making it OK for employees to take a walking break outdoors and encouraging them to get up regularly to stretch or do some push-ups supports the use of these devices.

Making employees' information public by putting up a leader board in the main lobby can encourage water-cooler chat about coworkers' progress and shows that the company believes in fitness tracking. "It increases engagement and makes people more likely to participate," says Kohll.

4. Don't force participation. Accept that not everyone will jump on the bandwagon of wellness. Making the devices available to everyone, hosting team challenges and making them part of the company's culture are great ways to encourage individuals to participate, but Kohll says these devices aren't for everyone and shouldn't be forced upon employees. "They can be great for individuals who are interested in making changes to their health behaviour but need that extra push, but they aren't for everyone," he says.

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Lisa Evans

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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