Wearable tech and fitness trackers have been around for the better part of a decade, becoming a $330 million industry in 2013 according to the NPD Group. That number is set to explode after the September announcement of the Apple Watch, a new device that embeds fitness technology among its many features. It tracks body movement with an accelerometer, gauges workout intensity with a heart monitor, and determines the distance you’re running or walking with GPS information from a linked iPhone. Apple’s new product and other emerging fitness technologies are working to bring wellness fully into the digital realm.
What does the age of wearable technology mean for your business? The idea of the “quantified employee” is one that many businesses are thinking about. According to a recent article on Fast Company, over 13 million wearable technology gadgets will be integrated into corporate wellness programs within just five years. People are hungry for numbers in this era of big data, and wearable devices promise opportunities to track the health and wellness of employees in new ways.
Many company wellness programs have relied on self-reported data in the past, bringing the accuracy of the numbers into question. Even walking programs that used pedometers required participants to manually upload their steps to a device on a daily basis, creating a clunky system that lowered participation. New devices, however, allow for automation in data reporting. And easy reporting can motivate your workforce: Amy McDonough, director at leading wearable tech company Fitbit, explains on BenefitsPro how wearing an activity tracker can make people 40 percent more active.
There’s no doubt that many people want to work on their fitness; a Nielsen survey showed that more than 70 percent of Americans are trying to get healthier or maintain their health this year. Wearable fitness trackers can help by making people more aware of their health status. When your employees are motivated about getting healthy and have reliable data to help them get on the right track, it can lead to boosts in productivity. According to figures from workforce solutions company Circadian (featured on Forbes), absenteeism costs approximately $2,650 each year per salaried employee. By helping employees get access to fitness tracking data, employers could start seeing those hefty indirect costs go down.
Before you consider issuing fitness trackers to your employees, there are a few things you need to consider:
- Can a third party safely aggregate your employees’ data in a way that both maintains user privacy and gives you insight on any impacts surrounding the productivity of your business?
- Do you have a corporate wellness program that is compatible with the device(s) that you’ve chosen, and can that program help you with setup, troubleshooting and monitoring?
- If you plan to offer financial incentives based on fitness tracker performance, have you considered if you’re making reasonable accommodation to any disabled employees? You may want to consult local equal opportunity employment regulations.
- Do you have a good sense of the appetite of your employee population for a fitness tracking program? Wearables aren’t for everyone, and you’ll need to forecast positive ROI before undertaking a large technological investment.
When the Apple Watch becomes available to consumers in early 2015, developers all over the world will be scrambling to create apps that utilize its fitness tracking capabilities in all new ways. The quantified employee is here, and it will be up to businesses to decide if it’s something that they can embrace.
Andrew Reinbold has been focused on the health care marketing and communication space for over five years. He currently focuses on business to business content for WellPoint, Inc. that is relevant to employers and brokers as they navigate the changing healthcare environment.