Employers track workforce fitness with wearable tech

Aug 21, 2014

Employers of all varieties are trying to hold down health insurance costs and a growing number are offering rewards and/or penalties based on workers getting annual physicals or joining smoking cessation programs. Now, some are turning to wearable technology to motivate employees to get into better shape.

According to a report by Bloomberg News, BP Plc offered one of its employees a different way to cut his annual insurance bill by $1,200. The worker wore a fitness-tracking bracelet that gave him points toward cheaper health insurance based on his level of physical activity. After a year, the worker shed 70 pounds, reduced his blood pressure and improved his cholesterol.

A study by RAND Corporation, published earlier this year, of 67,000 people who participated in PepsiCo’s "Healthy Living" program over a seven-year period found an average savings of $30 a month per worker who participated in the lifestyle management initiative.

The Bloomberg piece points out that wearing such devices (cost estimated to be $594 per worker) does raise questions about employees’ right to privacy. While most wearable tech devices now act much like pedometers, they are likely to become more sophisticated over time. As more detailed information about a person’s health becomes available, it could potentially be used against workers. Employers counter that they are not capturing data on individual employees, but are seeing data in aggregate form from third-parties that manage these programs.

Do you see wearable tech devices as an effective means for reducing employer healthcare costs? Are you concerned about companies overstepping the privacy line?

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12 Comments on "Employers track workforce fitness with wearable tech"

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Max Goldberg

Wearable devices are an effective means for reducing employer healthcare costs, through encouraging healthy behavior in employees. So long as employees clearly know what data is being collected and how it is being used, these devices can be a win/win. Too many Americans are overweight, and our healthcare costs are mushrooming. Employers and employees can fight back with these type of health monitoring programs.

Jerry Gelsomino

Yes, I think this is a viable option. I know several people who rely on health wearables and it makes them constantly reminded to make smart lifestyle choices.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

If wearing tech devices is designed to “reward” individuals with lower health care costs, then someone, somewhere has to know the identity of each individual in order to be able to execute policy and reward.

Whenever data is collected at the individual level, there is a huge potential for abuse, concerns about rights to privacy, and worse.

Liz Crawford

This is great! But only if workers can hit the gym during paid hours or office hours. Otherwise, workers are putting in unpaid overtime to stay fit.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Remember 1984 and the idea of Big Brother always watching? Why not let people wear the devices and monitor their own behavior if the theory is that monitoring behavior leads to behavior modification? If the goal is to have people be more healthy, why not let people choose the method that works for them without having their “boss,” company, or a third party monitor results for them?

Roger Saunders
Yes. The wearable tech devices can work, in a very positive way, to hold down costs while helping the employee find more useful health paths. Employees should always be provided the option of having their exercise and health points rolled out. If a company does provide a wearable device, or offer them at a discount, let the associate know they can opt out. I was recently meeting with a high level CPG executive. We spoke of the wrist device that he was wearing (I had purchased one for the Blonde Bombshell—my wife of 40 years). He pointed out that he was monitoring heart rate, steps per day, and sleep patterns. Since he started wearing it 8 months ago, he had lost 40 pounds. Several of his colleagues had jumped into the “game,” and were doing the same. They were actually using their iPads to post how many steps they were taking each day, and who was shirking the movement. Numerous people were sharing their views. This exec was staying at or above 10,000 steps per day. And, he looked great. Understandable that the trial-lawyer types would attack useful technology by declaring “Wear this device so the boss knows you’re losing weight.”… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom

What Chris said: whatever concerns I have about this are augmented when the program is promoted with a … let’s just call it a dubious statement.

But beyond the “no thanks” element is the question of how effective these would be; smoking, being a drunk, or 70 pounds overweight are hardly things you need a device to tell you, and while I’m sure those who sell them will tell you they have enormous costs savings, I’d like a more skeptical analysis … my built-in BS meter is beeping.

Robert DiPietro

I don’t see this as a way to reduce healthcare costs. The employee still has to do something with the data…work out, eat better, get more sleep—something. At the end of the day, this is a fad, unless it becomes user-based health insurance and those that don’t hit goals pay more and those that do pay less.

Why not put a treadmill or bicycle in the office vs a desk chair?

Mike Donatello
Mike Donatello
2 years 9 months ago

I don’t believe that wearable tech is necessary in order to establish and administer employee wellness programs successfully. Guidelines, milestones and counseling for employees who want to become fit are already integral parts of any reputable wellness program. I can imagine offering such devices as free incentives for participation to willing employees who were interested. But, as a requirement, I see perceived abuses of wearable tech doing more harm than good.

Janet Dorenkott

I just had a conversation with one of my customers today. Many companies are doing this. The “Fitbit” was a very popular Christmas gift this year for employees. I know of 2 of our large customers who purchased these devices for their employees over the holiday this past year. It’s good for the employee, good for the company and if it reduces cost on top of that, that’s just icing on the cake. I don’t see it as invasion of privacy. Employers already know what illnesses employees have and already see the corresponding insurance costs associated with those illnesses.

Bill Hanifin

Measurement is needed if any process improvement, or in this case healthcare improvement, plan is to succeed. Therefore, it’s a bit problematic as companies sponsoring these plans can’t rely on self—reporting by employees as a fair way to assess progress towards the goal of a healthier workforce.

Wearable tech devices could be positioned as a fun and edgy way to help employees meet their goals and to reduce health care costs. There will need to be some fine tuning of the data transmitted to employers however and maybe filtering will be required.

David Lubert
David Lubert
2 years 9 months ago

Depending upon your perspective, you could view this as overstepping, but from a holistic point of view, all parties win!


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