Smart Tools Help Employees Stay Healthy and Engaged

Thanks to the popularity of smart phones, Fitbits, Apple Watches, mobile wellness applications and other easy-to-use “smart” portable technology, employers now have more opportunities to work with their employees on health and wellness programs that can be tracked, measured and reported, synergistically, using today’s accessible technologies.

Wearables such as the Fitbit or the Apple Watch do more than simply measuring steps – they can help monitor stress levels and heart rates. They also aid in implementing fitness plans, so they can be a valuable tool in encouraging workplace health. Simply having access to apps on already existing smartphones can be effective as well.

Progressive employers are using these tools to support employee wellness engagement, taking an interest in the shape of each employees’ health efforts across multiple dimensions including fitness, movement, stress, disease risk and disease management.

The challenges inherent to employer involvement in wellness at work always have included time constraints, encouraging employee engagement, privacy issues and the employer’s willingness to participate or fund these proactive efforts.

However, effective wellness programs improve workforce health, reduce healthcare costs, improve morale, boost teamwork and increase productivity. Corporate wellness programs strive to get employees more active, but, like too many New Year’s resolutions, programs often fall short because people stop participating — and return to an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.

This has led many businesses to investigate the use of technology combined with wellness programs to increase and maintain employee engagement. But throwing technology at the problem without proper strategy and support programs will not accomplish the desired result.

With so many millennials and their younger associates, “Gen-Z-ers,” adept at personal technology and absorbed in social media, employers can work with their staffs to encourage personal goal-setting, as well as team goal-setting, and consider setting up online tools, social media groups or dedicated websites for employees to report and track their own and one another’s progress involving mutually agreed-upon goals linked to walking, running, fitness, weight loss, nutrition, hydration, sleep and more.

Some wellness devices wirelessly and securely transmit all activity data through the Cloud to personal web applications without employees lifting a finger. Their daily activity is automatically recorded and uploaded where it is available for easy viewing and personalization. Coupled with incentives provided by a supportive employer, this can create an excellent opportunity for organizations and individuals to get on the same preventive health-care page.

Data gathered from wearables can help an organization make a business case for a wellness program or fine-tune one already in place. Wearables can provide employers with a vast amount of biometric data and help evaluate the return on investment — but only if employees consent to share this information.

Using wearables can decrease the sedentary lifestyle that often pervades present-day working generations. With features such as activity apps, employees can track their physical movements and set reminders to stand when sitting for long periods of time, drink water, track their sleeping patterns, meditate, count calories, and much more.

Make It Easy, and Make It Fun

A growing number of companies, embracing wellness as a positive business model, are facilitating the use of digital technology tools and programs for their employees.

For instance, by demonstrating the impact of poor eating and exercise habits for a person with high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease, or for someone who is pre-diabetic, immediate lifestyle changes can be recommended through a simple mobile app that can also help the user set personal goals. This technology then provides ongoing motivation by displaying their progress along their journey to improved health. If employees agree to share the results, these changes and progress can then be monitored and recommendations adjusted accordingly.

Monitoring and evaluating real-time data of employee’s physical activity, sleep patterns, and stress levels can help employers evaluate the drivers of health risks to their employees, and potentially mitigate illness and prevent long-term disability leaves. Also, it provides the ability to examine the health risks and trends facing the organization’s entire workforce, not just specific individuals.

Employers can create fun challenges, promote friendly competition for willing participants, and reward participation as well as individual or team progress with time off, sponsorships, gift cards, cash prizes, team outings and a variety of “bragging-rights” incentives. Some employers actually purchase wearable technology for their teams as added incentive and a strong sign of commitment.

However you proceed, include employees in the planning and execution. Consider working with an outside firm, fitness expert or wellness professional when possible to establish reasonable goals and review procedures, and practice these simple steps when designing your program:

  • Make it as easy as possible to participate
  • Use helpful reminders
  • Develop engaging programs
  • Seek employee consensus and participation
  • Provide incentives that motivate employees
  • Recognize and reward all participants

With today’s popular and affordable technologies, it’s easier than ever now to engage employees in improving their own health and wellness. Everyone wins, and the only losers are the ones who shed pounds or unhealthy behaviors in favor of fitness, good nutrition and the satisfaction of setting and achieving personal health goals.

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!