Over the last decade wearables have become increasingly popular as our obsession with self-monitoring grows. With an increased number of employees working remotely, individuals are turning to their devices to track personal progress, seek motivation and monitor their wellbeing as they figure out a new routine to stay fit, healthy and happy when working from home.

Workforce health and wellbeing has become an even bigger priority for employers. Numerous studies link a healthier business culture to a reduction in employee turnover and higher employee engagement and business productivity. We’re now seeing a confluence of these trends, as employers wake-up to wearables’ potential to improve the health of their workforce. However, knowing potential and understanding how to unlock it are two very different things. How can employers promote adoption, deliver insights and overcome challenges when it comes to getting value from wearables?

Driving adoption

The logic behind offering wearables is clear. If employees have greater insight into their own health, they’ll be more likely to make healthier choices and as a result overall company health should improve. For this to play out though, employees need to have an interest in improving their health. As expected, employers who are already using wearables as part of their benefits programme found that uptake was higher amongst employees who were already interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The challenge is engaging employees who aren’t as focused on actively improving their physical health.

Adoption may become less of a challenge, as insurers increasingly take on active roles in nudging employees towards healthier choices. US insurer, John Hancock, was one of the first in the industry to apply mandatory fitness tracking to all its schemes. Meanwhile, in the UK, Vitality allows employees to link their fitness tracker or mobiles to their scheme to earn points and rewards for adopting a healthy lifestyle. In the future, wearable data and fitness tracking may even become a standard requirement for insurance providers.

In the meantime, employees benefit two-fold from wearables, gaining data insights on their own health and reduced insurance premiums.

Delivering insights

But what’s next? Forward-thinking HR teams are already considering how to add further value by helping employees interpret and act on the data generated by wearables, and how this positively impacts their ability deliver on their benefits strategy.

By tapping into the data generated by wearables, companies can gain real-time insights into the activity levels of their workforce, enabling them to create more targeted and effective wellbeing strategies.

If we then add artificial intelligence (AI) to the equation, the potential for pre-emptive care and cost savings becomes huge. For example, if we were able to look at the current activity levels of employees, in combination with other health factors, such as their propensity to any hereditary conditions, employers could help assess their likelihood of ill health later in life. Giving employees an early warning that they’re at increased risk of poor health would likely motivate them to take preventative action today.

Overcoming challenges

However, if employers are to derive real value from their people’s health data, they will have to undertake a significant trust building exercise. Trust in data collection and usage has declined in recent years and it’s understandable that people may feel reluctant to give their employer access to personal data.
Employees need to feel confident that any information collected about them won’t impact their position within the company. For example, if testing revealed a pre-disposition to heart disease or diabetes, people need to trust that their bosses won’t shy away from giving them more responsibility or a promotion in anticipation of time off for sickness that may or may not come. There would also be a concern that employees susceptible to these conditions could see a hike in their private medical insurance premiums.
What’s more, the regulatory challenges that surround GDPR could add another layer of complexity. There is no justification for employers to collect or store individuals’ health data – meaning that drilling down to the micro level of an employees’ health would contravene legislation.

What’s next for wearables

Bearing the above in mind, it’s clear to see why so many employers are introducing wearables in some capacity into their workplaces – our research found that 33% of businesses are already collecting data from wearables and this is set to soar to 81% within the next three years.

While the trend for wearables looks set to stay, and even grow, businesses must put processes and safeguards in place if employers are to use the data generated to greater effect. We’ve seen companies cross a line with employee monitoring, with significant backlash from employees and society at large.

Before offering wearables or any monitoring technology to their workforce, employers must consider their motivations and communicate these clearly and transparently to their people. This will help employees understand the purpose of wearable technology and view it as a benefit.

As current global events are forcing many people to work from home for the foreseeable future, using technology to encourage employees to adopt healthy behaviours will become increasingly important. If employers can use the tools at their disposal effectively and get this right, the health benefits to their people and businesses will be significant – now, and in the future.