Health & Wellbeing
Can Employers Achieve Better Performance by Encouraging Employees to Wear Fitness Trackers?
Jackie Sharp
Jackie Sharp
Senior Manager,
Health & Well-Being
Sodexo North America

In January, Oral Roberts University announced an experiment. The Tulsa, Okla., university asked all 900 of its incoming freshmen to wear Fitbit fitness trackers.

Health is part of Oral Roberts’ culture, and students had previously been required to carry around small notebooks to document their exercise and report it to the school. In the digital age, it made sense to replace the notebooks with the fitness tracker wristbands, which record data on students’ heart rates and physical activity that’s later uploaded to the school’s system.

Even if you haven’t put a focus on fitness in the past, wearable devices offer an accessible way to start. This strategy isn’t just for college freshmen. It’s something you can and should try. In fact, it’s likely to be a workplace trend that is set to take off very soon given the increased emphasis organizations are placing on workplace wellness.

Roughly four out of five companies spend money on corporate wellness, according to Forbes. Between subsidizing gym memberships and creating health-focused events, the average amount spent on each employee is $693 a year, Forbes reported in January. So it makes sense that this year alone nearly 2,000 companies are expected to equip their workers with fitness trackers like Fitbit, Jawbone, Apple’s smartwatch or devices made by China’s Xiaomi, according to Bloomberg. BP has already done this. In 2015, the company distributed 24,500 Fitbit wearables to employees in North America, Bloomberg reported. Employees who record one million steps earn points toward reduced health insurance rates.

They’re not alone. Target, which recently purchased 330,000 Fitbits for their staff, is one of more than 70 major U.S. companies who already have put in bulk orders.

Of course, the hope is that these wearable devices will make employees more aware of their daily activity and potentially lead to behavior changes. As my colleague Deborah Hecker wrote last year, those that exercise and perhaps even lose weight are less likely to develop chronic conditions such as arthritis and heart disease. In fact, in a previous post on this blog, Kathy Johnson, Senior Director of Nutrition and Healthcare for Sodexo North America, wrote that when employees track their exercise habits it can help prevent diabetes. “For every two pounds you lose, you reduce the risk of getting diabetes by 15 percent,” Johnson wrote.

One of the drawbacks that organizations should be aware of are the security concerns about fitness wearables. Because they’re built for consumers, not industry, many wearables don’t have strong encryption, which leaves employees’ very personal data open to leaks or theft. But as these devices become more common in the workplace, the security may improve. Since the health of employees is in everyone’s interest, wearables could be the future of corporate wellness.

Would you wear a fitness tracker provided by your company?  Tell us why or why not in the comments.

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Jackie Sharp is the Senior Manager of Health & Well-Being for Sodexo North America responsible for guiding Sodexo’s commitment to programs, initiatives and partnerships that improve health and well-being for individuals, organizations and communities. Jackie is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian who specializes in corporate wellness, sports nutrition and physical fitness.


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18 comments on “Can Employers Achieve Better Performance by Encouraging Employees to Wear Fitness Trackers?

  • Toni Bourgoin says:

    It just makes no sense to me for two primary reasons:
    I think we cross the line when we attach performance to physical well being. How do you treat someone fairly if one is in a wheelchair or has some other restriction?
    Secondly, would companies really be prepared to issue fitness bands like security cards to employees? I don’t think so!

    Reply
    • Allen Battle says:

      Companies give discount incentives to employees for technology devices, but often not for excercise equipment. Opportunities exist for companies to further “the sound body makes a sound mind” philosophy. Good article.

      Reply
  • Tanya Fazande says:

    I already wear a fitness tracker per my doctor’s orders. I must admit it does help me to keep tracker of my daily fitness activities, and it has kept me on track with being accountable for my health goals.
    The notion of a companies tracking employees fitness through fitness trackers seems a bit Orwellian to me. Are these companies really ready to shell out that kind of money to issue trackers to all of their employees?

    Reply
  • Dave Willard says:

    Deming said that “You can expect what you inspect”; and while he may have been talking about transforming business effectiveness, his logic equally applies to personal wellness. Giving employees the tools, knowledge and access to a healthier lifestyle unlocks their capabilities to live healthier, happier (and good news for the organization; more productive) lifestyles.

    Fitness bands are a great tool for making physical activity top of mind and for measuring against your own goals. As a part of creating a wellness culture within an organization, offering fitness bands to the staff can be a great thing; on their own, or as a mandate, they perhaps deliver a different message that’s less-than-motivating for the staff. So unless a company takes a broad, multi-faceted approach to employee health and wellness, fitness bands can appear to look like something other than they’re capable of being. But as part of an overall, employee-focused program, they’re a great tool and a relatively low-cost benefit. Couple them with friendly competition and reward & recognition for accomplishment, and they change the breakroom conversation — I’ve seen that within my own workgroup.

    A previous commenter made a good point about employees with disabilities – and a good employer wellness program recognizes that all bodies benefit from activity, and that there is no one-size-fits-all form. All the more reason for a multi-faceted, inclusive wellness program that services all employees, regardless of physical ability, and one that focuses on more than just wearing a fitness band as a symbol of belonging.

    Reply
  • Joanna Kereakes says:

    I think it would be awesome for our teams to wear fitness trackers. Its a great way to build on team spirit and to form some friendly competition amongst peers. Which in return leads to better well being and Quality Of Life. I love this idea and highly encourage it.

    Reply
  • Carolyn Schofield says:

    My question regards frontline employees in food service. How would the wristband be used properly since wearing bracelets isn’t allowed in food service? Where would it be worn if not on the wrist and how accurate would the reading be? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Tanya Fazande says:

      That’s an excellent point. I work in food service and I have a wristband and a clip-on attachment that I clip on to the pocket of my chef pants. In order for food service workers to feel included, there would have to be some adjustments made. My question is, will there be different types of fitness trackers available?

      Reply
  • Within the last 12 months I’ve lost over 60 lbs., and encouraged my staff to pursue weight loss too by initiating a 10 lbs. in 10 weeks program during the school year. We did one session before Christmas Break, and a second just after Christmas break.
    In total those participating have lost 174.5 lbs. during these sessions.
    I would like to see more participate, and would be interested in knowing if Sodexo would provide these fit bits for our staff who participate in this program?
    Also I would like to know if we somehow could get Sodexo to partner with Gold’s Gym to get a corporate membership rate for our employees to utilize this facility, which incidentally is located in the middle of our 18 schools.
    We have 140+ employees, and many of them are over weight, but wanting to loose weight, and this would help.
    Currently I’m working on a ‘Summer Maintenance’ Program for them, and both the fit bits, and gym membership could be a big help.
    Please advise.
    Sincerely,
    Karin Mann

    Reply
  • John LaBreche says:

    I work at a College in food services. Employees constantly lose their cloth hats, name tags, slip resistant shoes, etc.. I would not expect anything different if we supplied employees with fitness trackers. This type of program could cost the unit alot of money with very little return.

    How about if Sodexo partnered with a national fitness chain like Planet Fitness or the like and offered a reduced membership for Sodexo employees. An overall fitness program could be jointly developed and the employee would be required to track their progress. Rewards/prizes/gifts would be offered for those that attain their fitness goals. There needs to be an element to a program like this that is the employees responsibility, more than just wearing a fitness tracker.

    Reply
  • Jeff Nelson says:

    More companies are turning to activities such as a fitbit to encourage healthy behavior to improve employee health and reduce health insurance benefits. Both are noble endeavors and should be expanded as part of the effort to contain health costs. Perhaps making such a item mandatory might be a stretch but what about making use of such an item / program voluntary? If certain goals are set and met the employee could be rewarded with lower benefit costs or ???

    Reply
  • Ken Waldenville says:

    I am 52 and in very good health weight etc. perfect numbers on my blood work each year. and I do not wear any gadgets. I do not believe I need my company to telling me how do live my life, I am doing that on my own Thank You.

    Reply
  • Yes I would wear a fitness tracker if my company provided one. I have a tracker and track my food, water, sleep and exercise. I love it. It help me to stay on track. If I have to track it I am little more concerned about what goes in my mouth. I try for 10,000 steps. It helps me stay focused.

    Reply
  • Cindy J. Cortes says:

    I think it would be a great idea to promote health and fitness more at the unit level. Fitness trackers are great….having one provided to me by my company — that would be awesome.

    Reply
  • Peter Clevleand says:

    I think it would be a great idea to offer a tracker to employees. I think mandating it going to far. We want to encourage our staff to live a healthier lifestyle but this could push to far into their personal life for a lot of people. If we as a company did this those that opt in should have some type of reward for achieving goals and improving their overall health. Sodexo could help if employee wellness by offering a discounted membership to employees and their families to a national chain like the YMCA, Planet Fitness or something that has multiple locations. I like the idea but also think it could lead to a slippery slope of work becoming like big brother. This should be a benefit not a mandate.

    Reply
  • Mike Montross says:

    I agree that offering a fitbit to employees to promote health and include benefits for those willing to share results send a positive message that a company cares about them. The moment it becomes mandatory, the care is lost and it could bring potential discrimination into question as one commenter pointed out. I don’t believe Sodexo would ever go there, as it is all about team spirit and the spirit of inclusion. Our company takes great pride in being diverse, and promoting an individual’s work/life balance. For those reasons, I’m not worried about it.

    Reply
  • There are no magic foods. Some foods may help you suppress your appetite a little. Some other foods may slightly increase your metabolic rate. Unfortunately, the effect is miniscule. The only way to really lose fat is to consume fewer calories than you burn. This way your body will tap into the fat stores to get the energy it needs.

    Reply

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