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.
— Sodexo USA, Inc. (@sodexoUSA) March 31, 2016