Engaging Employees Through Wearable Technology
Wellness has gone mainstream. Rarely, if at all, do people walk in to their place of employment and not see a wearable technology device strapped to the wrist of the person sharing the elevator. Whether it’s a fitness tracker or a smartwatch, your co-workers are recording every step taken, every beat of the heart, and every calorie burned.
With employees feeling the need to stay fit and healthy, many Human Resource professionals are using that to fuel their own plans to keep the workforce striving for greatness.
Technology in Action
Wearable health-related technology does much more than tracking steps. Devices also track a person’s pulse and heart beat. It tracks the number of calories burned. Some track your sleep patterns, something never done before.
That’s not all.
Some can even tell when a person needs a resting period. FitBit’s Charge 2 can walk the wearer through a series of breathing exercises… all geared toward calming the heart and the mind. Other devices have similar attributes.
Devices will also serve as a personal trainer of sorts, reminding the wearer to get up and walk if the person has been “inactive” for too long.
A Plan to Engage Employees
A few years ago, credit reporting firm TransUnion attempted to put a wellness plan in place. It didn’t perform well. In an effort to regroup and redirect the idea, HR Service Delivery director Debra Wasserman stepped up to the plate.
“In 2015, we had done a lot of just general research about wellness programs and different companies, and we focused just at a high level what we wanted our’s to be,” Wasserman explained. “That included, not just looking at physical health, but different aspects of health… emotional health… financial health.”
Wasserman said there was a desire to build a social program with global reach. It had to offer employees a unifying experience, but also the opportunity to connect with one another.
It also had to be safe.
“We did a lot of research up front to make sure from a privacy standpoint; we were covering all of our bases. And that we were not violating anything. And so we were very confident going in back in 2015 that what we were doing was going to be okay from a legal and privacy standpoint,” Wasserman said.
The result: a new wellness program using FitBits.
“The pilot went really well. So, after that, we expanded it globally to seven countries, and that’s what we’ve been doing since.”
Engaging the Logistics
The logistics of pulling off a wellness program of this magnitude were immense.
The company chose to pursue a FitBit exclusive program. To help offset the costs for those wanting to participate, TransUnion provided employees with a $50 subsidy to be used toward the purchase of the device.
There were other issues to consider.
“Different countries, sometimes, do things differently,” Wasserman said. “For instance, the U.S. and Canada allow people to buy a FitBit of their choice online whereas other countries don’t. So you have to ship them from corporate to those countries.”
For some companies, wellness programs have more than one focus. Clearly, there is a desire to help employees increase their own health and wellbeing, but there is also a financial return on investment. In this particular case, the financial benefits weren’t the primary focus.
“For us the return was less about saving hard dollars and more about a culture shift. We were able to, for one of the first times, really show how much the company cared about people’s physical well being,” Wasserman said. “There was an emphasis all the way from the top down on this. We were able not only to have that sense of that the company cares about my physical well being, but also a way to create some healthy competition and connect people who might not normally be connected.”
Another positive outcome of the program, employees genuinely want to be engaged. As a result, TransUnion does not have to spend large amounts of money on incentive costs.
“We do a team winner. They get a prize. And then the top three individuals get gift cards and that’s really the only incentive. It doesn’t go beyond that,” Wasserman said. “The rest is just people wanting to do it.”
Wasserman said the biggest benefit to the company is the ability to continue to connect people; people who do not normally have the opportunity to connect with co-workers and peers.
“We know one particular person has diabetes and we know our walking challenge prompted him to walk that much more and actually helped his levels of blood sugar,” Wasserman explained. “Somebody who works from home and was able to set up, you know, a make shift treadmill situation with her computer to get her steps in. The Hong Kong team did a big hike and got in 3,000 steps as a group. Different teams are doing all these creative types of games to challenge each other. So we’re looking at all those different stories and that’s what we’re building off of, just to see how it brings people, not just more physical health, but more social connections and more team spirit and for TransUnion.”
Debra Wasserman is the director of HR Service Delivery for TransUnion.