Your boss wants you to wear a fitness tracker

The benefits of fitness and sleep trackers are being promoted by employers, with many organisations using wearables to maintain and improve the health of their staff. This includes even more traditional organisations, which have recognised a direct relationship between productivity and the health and wellbeing of those that work for them.

Although we are still in the the early stages, there has already been a significant increase in the number of wellness programs. And more companies are offering employees activity trackers from providers such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Garmin as part of these initiatives. According to a 2013 study by ABI Research, by 2018 over 13 million wearable devices with wireless connectivity will be integrated into corporate wellness plans.

Employers are also recognising that the US as a nation is becoming increasingly obese. The latest statistics make grim reading. They show that more than one-third (78.6 million) of US adults are obese.

This has more serious implications than just low workplace productivity. Obesity related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer – some of the leading causes of preventable death. Plus there is the financial cost. The estimated annual medical cost for people who are obese is more than $1,400 higher than those of normal weight.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets you can buy today

Some organizations tie use of wearable devices into online wellness platforms to encourage a more holistic approach to health. The State of Colorado, for example, subscribed to a wellness platform called CafeWell. Employees use the site to upload step results and access personalized health itineraries and educational resources.

Other companies are running office “step competitions”, some of which offer financial incentives. This can lead to some unintended consequences. In pursuit of victory, some overly ambitious workers are finding some not-so-honest ways to get ahead.

A little known fact – did you know that strapping up your fitness tracker to a puppy can mean logging up to 30,000 steps on the device in a single day. Another interesting tip? It helps if you’re short and therefore need more strides to cover the same distance. Do a search on the internet and you will find people reporting attaching their Fitbits and other activity trackers to hamster wheels, power tools and ceiling fans to drive up their step count!

Its all due to financial incentives. Such programs lead to discounts for companies on their health insurance premiums. This proliferates down to the employees, with potential added benefits such as health club memberships or free athletic gear.

Use of wearables in the workplace is somewhat hampered by lack of trust according to a PWC research report released recently. The data shows that only 46% of those surveyed say they would accept a free piece of wearable technology if their employers had access to the data recorded.

The biggest barrier to adoption is data privacy and the lack of trust their employer would use the data to their benefit. The younger generation is more comfortable with sharing their personal data. This may, however, be influenced by financial pressures, and the fact that the younger generation is less likely to suffer from health related issues.

Its clear not everyone will approach this with the same amount of enthusiasm.

“Wellness programs attempt to make health fun for employees,” says Daniel McCaffrey, a behavioral scientist and consultant for Endeavour Partners.

“Research suggests that such programs can help convert the employees in the getting-ready stage of behavior change into the preparation stage, but they won’t help those in the not-ready phase. In addition, such programs don’t usually inspire participation among those who are already active and motivated to exercise regularly.”

Whatever the case, wearables are here to stay. As corporate healthcare costs continue to rise, businesses will likely start to ask for more employee participation in wellness programs. So, don’t be surprised if in the not too distant future, your boss asks you to strap on a fitness tracker.

And it is a good thing. Even if you don’t win that office competition, the health benefits are undeniable.

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