Wellbeing and wearable tech in the workplace
Wearable tech, such as fitness trackers and smart watches, has been around for a while and shows no sign of diminishing in popularity, with the latest figures showing that the number of connected wearable devices across the world is expected to rise to more than 1.1billion 2022, up from 526 million in 2016.*
With many of these devices now being made ever-more sophisticated with the addition of AI – whose capability could include, for example, analysing the wearer’s health-related data rather than simply recording it, so as to actually inform their life choices – this presents great opportunities to employers when it comes to their workplace wellbeing policy.
Paul Roberts, IHC consultant, says: “For growing numbers of employers, harnessing tech to improve workplace wellbeing is now moving on from just providing staff with wearable devices and encouraging them to use them in the office.
“With many employees now fully engaged in the wearables marketplace so that they prefer to choose the latest devices for themselves, the impetus for employers is now to create a healthy workplace culture in which staff are encouraged to connect these devices to a corporate platform so that valuable information can be gleaned for everyone’s benefit.”
Initiatives already out there include the Corporate Global Challenge from Virgin Pulse. Schemes like this which promote a healthier employee lifestyle generally feature step-based challenges and enable employers to collect the data they need to inform an inclusive, nurturing wellbeing strategy. Ideas could include setting up friendly competitions between staff and setting up challenges and goals for individuals.
So how does this all work? What kind of data can employers use and why?
A corporate wellness platform is set up to manage users’ data, and all that’s needed is compatibility with an android or smart phone. Prominent providers out there include all the main insurers, AXA Health Gateway, Bupa, Aviva, Cigna and Vitality Health.
As far as specific data that can be monitored, the parameters are expanding constantly. Monitoring staff activity levels, blood pressure and heart rate can help keep control of how they themselves can manage chronic diseases from which they may suffer, such as hypertension and diabetes. Or, with industries requiring manual labour, special devices can let employers know who is doing heavy lifting and how often. Stress levels are another area where there is a real opportunity for employers to make a difference, with wearable patches available on the marketplace that monitor stress and would enable an employer to, for example, encourage staff to take breaks and introduce some physical activity into their working day. It would also enable them to identify any changes that could be introduced into specific departments where stress levels are noticed to be particularly high.
“When it comes to workplace wellness programmes,” says Paul, “it’s really all about encouraging a caring culture in which staff feel that their health – both mental and physical – is being properly thought about by the senior management team. Employers should take great care to craft messages to their staff which convey the idea that this is about caring, not monitoring. The communication should be very much: ‘We care about your wellbeing, so let us help you care for yourself.’ Not: ‘We are watching you to ensure that you stay healthy so you can stay at work.’
“The anti-monitoring message is actually easier these days because millennials have grown up with a whole culture of social networking, and of sharing data, and have also taken a far greater interest in the specifics of their health than previous generations, for whom it may have very much been up to health professionals.
“Health culture has really changed even over the past decade and employers should be tapping into that enthusiasm for fitness and general wellbeing. Manage the message in the right way, and employers should find that staff are only too happy to hook up to a corporate wellness platform and allow their health data to be shared.
“Another important point to stress here is that an employer’s policy on wearables should try to not just engage those who are already engaged: the fitness obsessives who jog into work and are constantly checking their Fitbit. Any approach to wearables should be supported with wider initiatives aimed at engaging the whole workforce, such as easy and fun challenges between departments.
“And it probably also goes without saying that a healthy, looked-after workforce is definitely a more productive workforce so the benefits for companies in terms of managing sickness are absolutely clear.”