The appeal is obvious: wearable devices that track a user’s movements or exertion throughout the day can provide the level of data necessary to help make the habitual changes necessary to improve fitness. And wearable fitness devices are growing in popularity, according to ABI Research, which found revenues in the wearable-connected-device market will grow to more than $6 billion in 2018 — and HR departments are paying attention.
Should wearable fitness devices have a role in your wellness plan?
Wellness consultants say yes.
“There is a definite role for wearable technology in corporate wellness programs,” says Fran Melmed of Context Communication, which focuses on wellness communication. “Today, the majority of employers are particularly interested in the trackers that analyze steps, nutrition and sleep.”
These devices represent a valuable source of data for employers and employees, Melmed says. Employers can use the information to get a larger picture about the state of employees’ health as they consider insurance offerings and wellness programs. Employees can learn about their own fitness levels as they participate in steps challenges or activity-level goals.
Devices “provide a valuable source of data to employer and employee, and critically, they’re being used, along with their Web- or app-based platforms, to form the basis of social challenges, helping with participation, motivation and reward management,” Melmed says.
Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina recently implemented a wearable-device fitness program, says Christy Colgan, health and wellness consultant at BCBSNC. She says businesses are switching the focus of their wellness programs to inspire real change among participants, not simply get more people to join in.
“Wearable fitness devices such as a Fitbit are a great tool to help engage a population towards increased physical activity,” Colgan says. “We have a tendency to give ourselves more credit than is due or to answer assessments the way we think the examiner wants to hear. Tools that are easy to use, accurately measure activity, and have a social component can allow people to increase their activity — with the added bonus of social pressure and real-time tracking to increase adherence and reliability.”
Having an easy-to-use tool makes it more likely that an employee is going to get a clear picture of her habits — and possibly be more inspired to change. “On a more basic level, the tool as a stand-alone for the consumer can help build awareness about current habits,” she says. “You can’t change what you can’t measure.”
She says wearable fitness devices are popular. “Corporate wellness programs need to stay fresh each year to keep employees engaged,” she says. “Wearable devices are ‘in’ right now, so it is easy to get employees to engage, with the win-win that employers now get real data from the tool (whereas they only got self-reported data with pedometers).”
Reasonable incentives can keep people from trying to game the system — “don’t give a $10,000 prize to your 10K-a-day steppers,” Colgan says — and social gaming components can provide some friendly peer pressure to keep people using them.