Millions of Americans use wearable devices to monitor their health and fitness. Sensors on these devices track everything from body movements to heart rate and even blood pressure. They also include audible alarms to remind users to stay active throughout the day.
The focus of these devices up to now has been on individuals interested in working toward specific health and fitness goals; however, wellness initiatives are incorporating technology progressively more into their programs with the aim to improve overall employee health. I’ve been a user of personal technology for years. Specifically, I enjoy tracking my daily activity, exercise and more with my own fitness tracker. As a CEO of a business focused on offering employees health options, I know that this is vital.
Many companies are already jumping on the wearable technology bandwagon. Glassdoor reported in December 2017 that an estimated 13 million wearable fitness and activity-tracking devices were projected for workplace wellness programs in 2018 — a dramatic upswing from 200,000 devices just a few years ago.
Employers are creating more and more benefit programs that focus on wellness with initiatives that support physical health. Many of these are being developed in partnership with health insurers to provide access to activity and wellness devices, along with program designs that are cost-effective to manage for employees. Ultimately, this method leads to a more productive workforce. Plus, it also appeals to prospective employees during the important recruitment process, as job postings now exceed the nation’s unemployment rate.
There are a number of benefits for employers who partner with their health insurer to increase the access to health and activity trackers in the workplace. The top benefits are:
• A Culture Focused On Health And Well-Being: For many years, work environments have made productivity and profits the top priorities, while health and wellness received little to no attention. The good news is that the advent of fitness and activity trackers, along with other wellness devices tied to specific outcomes and insurance requirements, have moved health to the forefront of workplace culture. This, in turn, creates a stronger sense of camaraderie, happiness and overall employee retention.
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• Enhanced Chronic Disease Management: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 84 million Americans — more than one out of three — have prediabetes. Of those, 90% do not realize they have it. Another 30.3 million adults in America are living with diabetes. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the country. High blood pressure is another chronic disease that requires constant monitoring and management.
Fitness trackers allow people to monitor their physical activity, what they are eating on a daily basis and more. This can lead to improved overall health and, ultimately, increased productivity due to a decreased rate of workplace absences related to illnesses and other ailments.
• Incentivize Healthy Habits: The rising use of smartphone apps with built-in incentives, such as points or badges, has turned health monitoring into a game. In fact, both small and large companies have taken the of gamification and expanded it further by putting programs in place that incentivize healthy employee habits. For example, an app that emphasizes accountability, while also encouraging movement toward a common goal, creates competition and, in the end, more engaged employees.
• Health Care Cost Savings: A report released last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that premiums for single employees rose 4%, while family health care premiums increased 3%. Coupling wearable technology with employer-sponsored workplace health and wellness programs can help to offset these rising costs. For example, a more physically active workforce may not need to see a doctor as frequently. As a result, employees — and, possibly, their spouse and kids — may have a reduced need for a robust — and often, costlier — health insurance plan. That translates to possible significant savings to the employee and employer.
Technology will continue to play an important role in overall employee health for years to come. Workplace-based wellness programs coupled with personal technology can lead to significant cost savings for both employers and employees while also helping to create a more engaged and healthier workforce.