Companies using fitness trackers to examine employee health

22 Sep

More companies are offering incentives for employees who use fitness trackers.

Big data is increasingly becoming big business for companies across the nation as they use analytics and employee management software to determine personnel progress, workloads and benefits.

Human resources departments are changing the face of employee wellness programs by giving staff wearable pedometers along with health and sleep trackers to encourage well-being and, hopefully, lower insurance rates for the company.

Large incentives
Healthy employees end up saving businesses millions, according to the Harvard Business Review. The publication cites Johnson and Johnson as a case in point as the manufacturing giant saved an estimated $250 million over a decade by encouraging staff members to quit smoking and lead active and healthy lifestyles. The business review states the company gained nearly $3 back for every dollar spent on its health and wellness programs.

Not only do the businesses and insurance companies benefit from the programs, but employees do too. John Hancock, the life insurer, offers discounts on premiums for customers who sign up to wear a fitness tracker and share their results with the company, according to CNN Money.

A study conducted by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health and cited by Harvard Business Review found firms with employee wellness programs retained staff members at a higher volume than those that did not have one. 

Nowadays, more companies such as Ikea and BP are getting into the act by suppling their staff members with wearable technology like pedometers that can track the number of steps walked in a day as well as the wearer's quality of sleep, according to The Washington Post.

BP offers cheaper health insurance plans to employees if they walk a certain number of steps, allowing staff members to save approximately $1,200 on deductibles a year, The Washington Post reported.

"It's an investment in our co-workers' health and well-being," Jacqueline DeChamps, Ikea U.S.'s human resources manager, told The Washington Post.

The international furniture retailer asked employees what kind of holiday gift they'd like to receive and after tabulating the results gave all 14,000 U.S. employees a Jawbone fitness tracker.

New programs
Meanwhile, other companies are going one step further and working with different fitness tracker manufacturers like Fitbit to integrate their devices into employee wellness programs, CIO reported. Some businesses, previously, gave pedometers and other health trackers away as a way to encourage healthy lifestyles, but they're now working in conjunction with Fitbit and other pedometer makers.

The Fitbit allows employees at any stage of fitness – from regular runner to someone just going for a stroll – to gauge their daily health, allowing human resources programs to be flexible. 

A few years ago, human resources departments wanting to launch a wellness tracking and incentive program for staff members had their work cut out for them in the form of collecting and indexing results and paperwork for employees, according to CIO. On top of that, the programs worked via honor systems with companies marking down the results an employee reported.

"This is still very much a new area," Jonathan Collins, an analyst at ABI Research, told The Washington Post. "Each company decides to draw the line where it wants to – what its HR department will be comfortable managing and what end users will be willing to sign up for."

Some programs start organically with a CEO or the head of human resources using a fitness tracker and challenging their employees to match the number of steps they take in a day, according to CIO. So far, the strictly voluntary health and fitness programs are receiving rave reviews as employees continue to use the wrist bands in and outside of the office.

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