Wearable Wellness? Integrating Tech into Wellness Programs with Wisdom

Wearable wellness is no longer a concept relegated to sci-fi movies and books.  It’s a reality. Estimates vary, but it’s likely that well over 13 million wearable devices will be integrated into corporate wellness plans by 2019, if not prior.  Wearable technology isn’t limited to watches either. There are clip-ons, shoe inserts, belts, headphones and even apparel – and we’re just getting started.

These developments can provide a new opportunity for organizations desiring to create an effective employee wellness strategy. Technology provides accountability, ease of tracking, simplified game-ification, and additional motivation for participants. The WOW factor tied to many of these tools can be eye-opening, and their integration provides a straight-forward way of communicating an organizational commitment to a culture of wellness for all involved.

Step or movement-based technology leads the pack (FitBit is the most widely utilized as of this writing). Auto tracking of steps can be integrated into team challenges and many of these devices provide additional motivation on an individual level. However, steps are only the beginning. You can now measure everything from stress levels to sleep, posture to chewing speed (no – I’m not kidding – and it actually looks like a cool idea to create additional mindfulness when eating). One guy even hacked his device to automatically shut off the power to his refrigerator if he didn’t hit his targeted minimum activity levels, essentially giving him the choice between walking or eating spoiled food!

Wearable wellness is clearly here to stay – and for good reason.  However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t considerable warnings to keep in mind when you’re looking at integrating these options into your employee wellness program strategy.  According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 82% of Americans say they’re worried that wearable technology will invade their privacy.  82%!! It doesn’t matter how secure the system may be, 82% of Americans don’t agree on anything, so this is obviously a considerable issue that must be overcome.

There is also the fact that the device can become little more than a smaller version of the common household clothes hanger (the home treadmill that goes unused after the first month of ownership). The device is a shiny new toy initially, but beyond the committed 10% (who were probably already quite active and this device proves to the world what was already true), it may find it’s way to the bottom of a desk drawer.

So what is the secret to successfully integrating wearable technology into your employee wellness program? Here are a few tips to help you make the most of this valuable (but not magical) opportunity:

  • Remember that ANY truly effective wellness program is all about “One Size Fits One.” It doesn’t matter that everyone on the wellness committee loves the wearable tech.  It’s not for everyone – at least not in the exact same way.
  • Make certain the integration involves individual autonomy. Autonomy creates stronger willpower.  According to Muraven and Roseman (Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology 44, no.3: 573-85), “If they (employees, in this case) feel like they have no autonomy, if they’re just following orders, their willpower muscles get tired much faster.” Is the wearable tech just another way to provide marching orders?  If so, it won’t only fail, it may make things worse.
  • Incorporate personalized (not simply call-center-based, generic) wellness coaching into your strategy. If done effectively – and believe me, I’ve seen more than my fair share of terrible coaching models and approaches – this can provide the catalyst for your desired outcomes. The relationship-based and personalized approach in this aspect allows each employee to find the best way to integrate the technology in a way that improves his or her life – in a meaningful way.
  • Building on the above, make the wearable technology an important PART of the wellness program, but don’t make it THE wellness program.
  • When using wellness technology, make certain your wellness partner can help you integrate reports on the utilization of the technology. This will make your life – and your incentive program – much easier.
  • Keep it fresh and keep it strategic. While those words may not seem to go in tandem, they are critical to a solid long-term approach.  It’s easy to do one or the other. In fact, most programs excel at one or the other. They just keep throwing random “wellness things” (including wearable tech) against the wall, hoping something sticks. Or, they develop some long-term but generally boring strategy that loses any sort of momentum before it’s into the 2nd quarter (if it ever had it in the first place). Stay fresh and meaningful – while at the same time creating a 2-3 year strategy that is updated (or at least reviewed with your wellness partner) every 6 months.

Wearable wellness provides organizations of all sizes and industries an excellent opportunity to create a more meaningful, engaging and outcome-driving employee wellness program if done right. And, the tools also provide an easy way to waste money and drive down employee engagement if not approached with wisdom. Are you ready to plug in and get started?

Share this post