If you implement fitness trackers for your employees, you can gain insight into their health habits and encourage employees when they hit wellness milestones. Plus, putting health at the forefront of your business can increase attendance and productivity and potentially lower overall health costs.
While some employees may find the move intrusive, others will appreciate the motivation to stay fit. But if this is something you introduce to your workforce, be mindful of the personal data you might collect through fitness trackers. While simple trackers only aggregate steps, advanced devices can measure how long your employee sits at their desk, their 24/7 heart rate and even the quality of their sleep.
Let’s examine the pros and cons of using fitness trackers for your employees.
“Employee fitness incentive programs can result in reduced absenteeism, greater worker productivity, and lower employee turnover,” said Alfred Poor, Ph.D., founding editor and publisher of Health Tech Insider. “All of these factors can result in real bottom-line financial savings for employers.”
FYI: According to a 2021 study by IEEE Pervasive Computing, fitness trackers can identify why an employee is not productive and possible ways to improve their performance.
In addition to increasing employee engagement, an activity tracker program can create a culture of gamification in the workplace, which has been proven to boost morale, focus and drive for a given task. Gamification makes the mundane fun and provides social support, increasing participants’ chances of maintaining their progress.
“Many organizations find that offering wearable fitness trackers that have shareable data encourages teams to work together to reach not only corporate goals but also [personal] fitness goals,” said Jared Weitz, CEO and founder of United Capital Source. “This drives collaboration and camaraderie amongst the team.”
However, before you implement a fitness tracker program, you should have a plan in place. “You can’t just buy a bunch of fitness bands, hand them out and then expect to get gains,” said Poor.
Make a plan for keeping the data secure, how frequently you’ll monitor it, incentives for meeting fitness goals, and strategies for employees who need extra encouragement throughout the process.
Poor said that a well-planned program can mean lower health care costs for your company as your employees improve their health and wellness. A study by Zippia showed that 72% of employers saw such expenses decline after starting a program. The Affordable Care Act even offers a provision under which employers can provide wellness incentives, such as gift cards or rate discounts, to their employees (paid for by insurers) if they track employee fitness.
To ensure your program gets off on the right foot, start with a thorough assessment of your employees, their health risks and what they want. Design the program around their responses. Next, develop a clear set of goals and objectives detailing how you will achieve those goals. Finally, outline a budget, your incentives, and how you will communicate the wellness plan to your employees.
Generally speaking, the healthier you are, the happier you are too. Happy employees are less likely to miss work due to physical or mental health issues, experience low productivity or look for a new position.
Monitoring your employees’ health can help make you more proactive in noticing bad habits, personal life distractions that may be affecting their wellness goals, and even expose underlying health conditions that your employee might not realize they have.
Plus, employers that invest time and money in employees’ health are rewarded with better teams, more revenue and top-tier referrals.
The biggest downside of employer-provided fitness trackers is a possible invasion of privacy. Many people feel that their health and wellness are their business and that their personal data should not be shared with their employer, whether on principle or out of concern for health-based discrimination.
Employers having access to employees’ biometric data is a gray area of legality, according to Corporate Wellness Magazine. Labor lawyers have expressed concern that employers may use fitness device data to justify promotions or pay raises, or, conversely, as reason to terminate an employee. Access to employees’ health data violates the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
A typical wearable fitness tracker, whether it was purchased personally or distributed by an employer, will not run aground of HIPAA violations. Wearable makers like Fitbit and Apple have devoted significant efforts to ensure their devices comply with HIPAA. HIPAA issues only come into play when a health care provider asks for data collected by the device.
Another privacy concern is that data collected by wearable devices are not held in databases with the same security or regulations as those managed by doctors or hospitals, leaving them vulnerable to hacking.
The best way to deal with this, said Poor, is to give your employees as much information and choice as possible. “When I work with companies on developing [wellness] programs, I encourage them to give employees the option to opt into the program and not force them to participate,” he said. “This gives them the choice to share their data or not.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s health status. An employer’s access to an employee’s weight, heart rate or other metrics could open that employee up to potential discrimination. Because many companies implement wellness programs to cut down on health care costs, legal professionals worry that this may lead to employers using health as an element in their decision-making, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The key is to make the program voluntary and open to the whole company. This way, you avoid targeting any particular demographic and lowering morale by taking away choice.
There are many ways to promote health and wellness in your company that can augment or replace wearable devices.
“Consider looking for discounted gym memberships that you can offer your employees,” said Weitz. “Look at your office as an opportunity – install standing desks, conduct ergonomic assessments, and stock break rooms with healthy foods and beverages.”
Foster bonding and engagement by planning active outings with your employees, such as playing casual sports games, participating in community walks and runs, or scheduling a visit from a dietitian or nutritionist.
Consider sending out surveys to see what your employees want or would enjoy. This way, you can ensure that you meet their needs and avoid alienating part of your workforce.
A business that can support overtime may be doing well financially, but extra hours can take a toll on employees. The more hours an employee works, the more stress can accumulate. As a result, the worker may experience high stress levels or burnout.
Using employee monitoring software to restrict overtime can help ensure the workload is evenly shared. In addition, enforcing paid leave can help prevent burnout, emotional escalations and unnecessary trips to the doctor.
Chances are, most of your employees don’t have a degree in nutrition. With all the disinformation that spreads on social media, it’s vital to educate employees on the effects of bad health habits like poor posture, excessive screen time, and reliance on caffeine or alcohol.
Providing employees with a health newsletter or incorporating wellness tips in company meetings can guide them without overreach or discrimination.
According to a Littler study, providing COVID-19 vaccine information to employees was a top priority for 84% of businesses surveyed. While a small percentage mandated the vaccine outright, companies were united in encouraging employees to consider the vaccination as the virus continued to mutate.
If your business provides employees with health insurance, it’s wise to encourage your workers to take advantage of (often free) preventative care.
You can also offer screenings and vaccines at the office so employees don’t have to take time out of their schedule to make an appointment, juggle an appointment during their workday, or go alone.
Having wellness programs in place is essential, but employees may not think you are serious about their health if you don’t provide support.
You can promote wellness within your company’s culture if you genuinely care about your employees’ health. For example, providing healthy snacks, offering education on healthy habits, and building a deeper relationship with your employees can all lead to a healthier work culture.
Additional reporting by Kiely Kuligowski. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.