Beyond steps: Wearables, productivity, and health

In recent years, a lot of discussion in the human resources world has revolved around the value of employee wellness programs. There’s a good reason: A growing body of research suggests wellness programs can benefit companies in a number of ways, from lowering costs of health care, workers’ compensation, and disability coverage to reducing injuries and absenteeism and improving employee morale, loyalty, and productivity.

While the benefits sound promising, there’s still room to grow and learn. Researchers and employers are constantly figuring out how to make wellness programs effective. So far, a key piece of the puzzle is to understand the tools that are most likely to make a difference in employees’ well-being, and then put them to good use.

A deep dive into the world of employee fitness trackers

In June 2017, Quill undertook an original research project to investigate the ways wearable fitness trackers can positively impact employee productivity, work-life balance, and health. We used Google Surveys to collect responses to 10 questions from 350 participants. (This number represents a small percentage of the original 8,634 respondents, most of whom were disqualified from completing the survey because they do not use wearables.) Qualifying participants consisted of U.S.-based male and female Android smartphone users, each of whom fell into one of three age groups: 25 to 34, 35 to 44, or 45 to 54.

The survey results revealed interesting data about the ways people engage with wearables. Here are some key findings:

  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents believe their wearable makes them more active.

    Just over 63 percent of participants think they wouldn’t be as active if they didn’t use a fitness tracker. Respondents also believe their wearables have helped them become more conscious of sleep habits, meet weight loss goals, be more productive at work and/or home, eat more mindfully, and/or feel less stressed. More women than men reported that wearables have positively influenced their lives.

  • The majority of respondents use their wearable to track sleep.

    The youngest age groups are most likely to track sleep on a regular basis, for a total of 34.5 percent of 25 to 34 year olds and 40.1 percent of 35 to 44 year olds. (A little more than one quarter of 45 to 54 year olds also reported tracking their sleep on a regular basis.) More than 17 percent of those surveyed do not track their sleep but are interested in doing so.

  • More than half of respondents use their wearable to track steps.

    More than 53 percent of respondents use their wearable to track steps on a regular basis, while another 29 percent sometimes use this function.

  • More than 40 percent of respondents use their wearable to track heart rate.

    While 43.6 percent of respondents reported using their wearable to track heart rate, this may underestimate interest in heart rate tracking. Sixteen percent of respondents reported they don’t track their heart rate simply because their wearable doesn’t offer this feature, while another 12.3 percent said they do not currently track their heart rate but are interested in doing so.

  • Less than half of participants use their wearable to track calories on a regular basis.

    Just under one quarter of respondents (24.3 percent) use their wearable to track calories, but a significantly higher percentage of respondents (48.9 percent) do not. The remaining respondents sometimes use their wearable to track calories, but not on a regular basis.

  • More than half of respondents are open to using their wearable as part of a workplace health incentive program.

    Very few respondents (less than one in 10) currently use their wearable for this purpose. But more than 50 percent reported that they are willing to use their wearable in conjunction with a health incentive program if their employers offer this opportunity.

Bottom line? Wearable fitness trackers can provide a stellar opportunity to improve employees sleep, physical fitness, eating habits, stress levels, and overall health awareness. In the process, these trackers have the potential to make a lasting impact on employees’ workplace contributions.

How to start a company tracking challenge

Of course, wearables only have the positive effects described above if people actually use them. That’s why it’s helpful for employers to create engaging opportunities for team members to monitor certain health metrics. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to institute a company tracking challenge. Here’s how to get started:

  • Offer a variety of ways to get involved

    Sure, tracking steps is a simple and effective choice for a tracking challenge. But physical activity is only one part of the wellness puzzle, and it may not appeal (or be accessible) to everyone on your team. Reach a broader group of employees by offering different ways to get involved, from tracking steps to sleep, hydration habits, stress, and more.

  • Provide team members with appropriate resources

    If you want employees to move more, provide gym memberships and encourage walking meetings. If you want employees to sleep more, create a company culture that values unplugging in the evenings.

  • Use positive—not negative—reinforcement

    When employees feel obligated to participate or believe that their participation is harshly monitored, it can destroy motivation. Focus on creating a voluntary and affirming approach to wellness that celebrates people’s accomplishments—no matter how small.

  • Make it fun

    Your employees already work for you; they shouldn’t be expected to do more work in the form of wellness activities. Instead, a tracking challenge should be good, clean fun. Provide opportunities for employees to socialize while working toward wellness goals, and offer incentives (such as a paid day off) to spark friendly competition. And make sure to keep everybody in the loop with targeted communications featuring fun updates and group cheerleading.

As our research suggests, wearable fitness trackers provide an opportunity for employers to tap into their team members’ efforts to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. By effectively engaging employees in the use of wearables, employers can enjoy significant ROI in the form of heightened employee retention and productivity.