9 ways corporate fitness and wellness programs will change in 2016

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Enterprise-wide fitness challenges and wellness programs had a banner year in 2015, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of activity trackers and other wearables. In 2016, organizations will look for programs that take employee health a step further.


Employee fitness and wellness programs continued to grow in popularity during recent years. For example, 70 percent of U.S. employers now offer some kind of employee wellness program, up from 58 percent in 2008, according to a study released in June 2015 by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Despite this notable increase, enterprises will face challenges in 2016 related to their fitness and wellness programs, including ongoing security and privacy concerns among employees and the need to keep staff engaged with new features, rewards and challenges. 

Here's a look at some of the top trends in technology-backed fitness and wellness programs for 2016. 

Wearables, and emotional and spiritual wellness in 2016

Enterprises will continue to make large investments in walking-based challenges, weight maintenance programs and other physical health initiatives. However, organizations will in 2016 increasingly add or expand programs "that nurture the emotional, spiritual, and social aspects of wellbeing," says Dr. Rajiv Kumar, founder and CEO of ShapeUp.

[Related Feature: The 3 best activity trackers that cost less than $100]

The trend of incorporating "mental well-being" into corporate health programs is gaining traction in places such as Silicon Valley, according to Nichol Bradford, founder of the Transformative Technology Lab in Palo Alto, Calif. Some tech companies are "looking into ways to incorporate wearable gear that measures brainwaves, as well as meditation programs that help employees better communicate and become leaders," he says. 

Don Joos, president and CEO of ShoreTel, recently took some time during a company meeting to update the organization on his vision of wellness, which includes mind, body and spirit, according to Jennifer Campbell, ShoreTel's senior HR manager. "He encouraged employees to define their own routines and gave a call-to-action for employees to help their peers live a healthier lifestyle."

Subsidized activity trackers for employees' significant others

Houston Methodist, a hospital chain, is among a number of organizations that not only subsidize the cost of Fitbit activity trackers for its employees but also for their partners and spouses, according to Heather Kennedy, director of customer success at Fitbit Corporate Wellness. Kennedy expects more companies to follow Houston Methodist's lead in 2016.

Emory University is also considering subsidized Fitbits for its staff's spouses and partners in 2016. "Social support is important" in getting employees to sign up, participate, and stay motivated not only during a fitness challenge, but also all year long, says Michael Staufacker, director of the university's health management department.

Fitness and wellness programs will use new tech in 2016 

Many modern corporate fitness and wellness programs already employ activity trackers, but 2016 will bring additional technologies and applications into the mix.

We can expect to see a more "multifaceted" approach to delivering new features, according to Jeff Ruby, Newtopia founder and CEO, including live fitness coaching delivered to employees via two-way video conferencing. CIOs will need to ensure their organizations' network bandwidth can support the additional burden, he says. 

Gamification, social networking key to corporate wellness in 2016

To encourage and maintain staff participation in fitness initiatives, gamification and social networking will become even more important in 2016.

"People got super excited about 'the quantified self' in 2015, with a whirlwind of wireless wearables taking the corporate wellness world by storm," says Sonic Boom Wellness CEO Danna Korn. But next year, "we'll see that 2015's mass investment in Fitbits and other devices will be for naught, unless companies find a way to sustain interest in them."

[Related Feature: How HR uses fitness trackers to increase company wellness]

"With employees providing an inherent social networking framework, companies will need to find programs that play upon that sociality by 'gamifying' wellness and encouraging social interaction alongside wellness efforts," Korn says. "All the excitement about fitness, fitness apps, and fancy gadgets will fizzle out without more substance and structured social programming in place." 

"Corporate wellness programs will start to incorporate more fun activities that motivate employees to participate and stick with the programs, including enhanced technology, gamification, competitions and other similar ideas," adds Kelly Johnston, senior vice president of product development at Health Advocate. "As part of this transition, we'll see the 'sticks' start to disappear in favor of more 'carrots,' encouraging employees to take action without feeling forced to do so because of penalties."

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