Pros and cons of using fitness trackers for corporate wellness

fitbit blaze

Surprise! A new Fitbit study found plenty of corporate wellness program benefits for employers and their staffs, but the survey also identified two key challenges.

Do corporate wellness programs really benefit employees, as well as their employers? They do if you believe the results of a new survey of 200 American CEOs commissioned by Fitbit Wellness, Fitbit's corporate fitness team. The CEOs who participated in the Fitbit survey represented companies with between 1,000 and 10,000 employees, and the research was conducted in late 2015.

It's not surprising that a Fitbit survey uncovered many benefits of corporate wellness programs, but the survey also highlights wellness program challenges.

Based on this survey and other recent research, here are five reasons why employees might want to wear Fitbits or other fitness trackers at work, and participate in an employer's wellness program, along with two more reasons to give such programs a second thought.

Benefits of corporate wellness programs

1. Wellness programs reduce more stress than corporate parties

Are ongoing fitness or wellness programs better stress relievers than karaoke parties or other employee get-togethers? According to 80 percent of the CEOs queried wellness programs are better for stress relief than corporate social events. 

2. Corporate wellness programs attract top talent

Health and wellness programs help companies attract the best and the brightest job candidates, according to Fitbit. Among the CEOs surveyed, 49 percent strongly agree with this statement, and 45 percent somewhat agree. Only 6 percent of the executive respondents strongly or somewhat disagree.

3. Wellness programs keep employees engaged

The top three health and wellness program benefits cited by the CEOs are "more engaged employees" (53 percent); "increased employee retention" (51 percent); and a "stronger sense of community" (47 percent).

4. Corporate wellness programs reduce healthcare costs, sick days

Rounding out the top five benefits, CEOs cited "lower healthcare costs" (47 percent) and "fewer sick days used" (44 percent).

5. Companies with wellness programs financially outperform S&P 500

A recent study conducted by the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) looked at the stock performances of 49 companies starting in 2009 and ending in 2014.

HERO found companies that ranked high for workplace health programs enjoyed stock values that appreciated by 235 percent, compared to 159 percent for the overall S&P 500 during the six-year simulation period. The study was published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Challenges of corporate wellness programs

1. Dealing with all that data

Of the CEOs surveyed, 28 percent said it is hard to keep track of the data collected as part of health and wellness programs.

Keeping employee health and fitness information secure is a related, ongoing concern for many employers. In fact, some employees initially hesitate to share Fitbit or other data, such as calories burned and miles walked, with their employers, because they fear the information could negatively impact their insurance premiums, according to a Bank of America executive who spoke at the 2015 Fitbit Captivate conference last fall.  

fitbit survey

2. Low employee participation

Convincing employees to participate in corporate fitness and wellness program can also be tough, and 23 percent of the CEOs surveyed said it is challenge. How can companies combat this particular challenge? Nearly all of the CEOs (95 percent) said it is important to provide incentives for employees to wear fitness trackers.

Such incentives typically come in the form of a carrot, not a stick. But some organizations use both. For example, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that employees of three different firms could buy Apple Watches, which track activity levels, for the discounted price of just $25. That's the carrot. The stick: If the employees don't meet certain fitness goals, they must pay $13.50 per month for two years to make up for costs of their Watches.

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