by Karen McDermott

Can working for a tech company improve your health?

Jul 24, 2018
IT LeadershipIT SkillsStaff Management

How technology and technology companies can harness IoT and company culture to improve the lives and health of their employees.

Like many employees of technology companies, I work remotely, which has its pros and cons. After starting a stressful new job, traveling frequently in cramped airplanes and being voluntarily tethered to my devices, I recently found myself with back pain and “tech neck” from many herniated disks, doctors said. I spent hours enduring tests, procedures, and physical therapy, none of which helped my productivity.

I’d like to say there was some miraculous medical treatment that solved the problem. The truth is, my company and colleagues helped me get better.

Thanks to a four-week corporate philanthropic challenge, I returned to the gym and started using the elliptical regularly and monitoring my steps with a digital fitness tracker, which was purchased using a corporate discount. For every mile of steps reached by employees, my company donates money to academies that teach children about global climate challenges. It’s a great way to improve the physical and mental health of our workforce while also improving the planet.

With the structure provided by the fitness tracker and the competitive nature of our culture, I became obsessed with my results and the post-workout euphoria I was experiencing. Soon my weight dropped, my back pain subsided, and my health improved dramatically.

But my story isn’t unique – or it shouldn’t be. Tech companies can lead the way in initiatives to improve employee health.

Prime targets for a focus on health and wellness

Think about it – like me, many tech workers spend hours on their laptops. They tend to sit at their desks all day, which is a recipe for poor posture, weight gain, and related aches and pains. Some experts link prolonged sitting to reduced lifespans. So tech workers are prime targets for company programs designed to improve health and well-being.

That’s the bad news. But look on the bright side: given their professional focus, employees of high-tech firms are more likely to trust technology and engage with solutions designed to support their goals. Because they often work virtually, they have the flexibility to exercise at different hours and dedicate time that other workers spend commuting to working out or preparing their own healthy foods.

So how can tech firms take responsibility for helping their employees live their best lives? It starts with companies living by their purpose-driven mantras. My company’s mission is to “help the world run better and improve people’s lives.” You probably know other tech companies with similar outward-facing goals. Silicon Valley is chock full of enterprises that look beyond themselves to the welfare of others, even on a global scale. What could improve people’s lives more than being healthier and living with less sickness and pain?

Unexpected benefits

Although millennials are known for prioritizing quality-of-life issues in their employment decisions, they are not alone in their interest in healthcare initiatives. Older generations of workers, including GenX and Baby Boomers, stand to benefit even more from an employer focus on well-being. With the rising cost of healthcare, especially in North America, these more-senior workers tend to embrace programs that can help them protect against injury and ameliorate the effects of disease.

Employer-driven healthy life programs can also offer the unintended benefit of boosting the diversity initiatives of many high-tech firms. Despite the popular focus on shared family responsibilities, it is often women who shoulder the lion’s share of the responsibility for managing the health and wellness of their families. As a result, employer programs that support family health and fitness goals are a huge attraction for female workers.

My company recently partnered with Kurbo, an outside provider that offers research-based behavior modification programs. Once employees sign up for this free service, they are assigned a coach who works one-on-one with them to help them meet their fitness goals – whether that is helping the family exercise more, improving nutrition, or losing weight, for example. Of course there’s a mobile app that helps employees record their efforts, enhancing accountability, and it allows coaches to assess progress.

Cost versus benefit analysis

I mentioned that the Kurbo app is free to our employees. We also have access to discounted healthcare equipment and other programs designed to create a healthier workforce. Of course, my company negotiates these discounts and pays the service providers. And I’m sure the costs for this and other healthcare initiatives are not insignificant.

But neither is the cost of pain and illness. My own MRIs, doctor copays, and physical therapy appointments were not cheap. I’m sure higher health insurance premiums are eating into corporate profits in every industry. And when you think of the lost hours of employee productivity, the cost of poor health rises further.

Tech companies that pay upfront to keep their employees healthy clearly and inevitably come out ahead. The benefits of productive, happy, and healthy workers truly outweigh the costs of a fitness tracker promo or a wellness coaching service.

Tech firms aren’t the only companies that can benefit from healthier employees. But given their purpose-driven missions, tech-savvy workers, and opportunity to reduce costs, they may be the most willing and able to design and deliver initiatives that make employee lives better, and in my case, healthier!

Remember that four-week corporate challenge? Thanks to my FitBit and improved fitness, I came in #59 out of 6,533 employees globally and #3 in the United States. Around the world, 1.06 million employees contributed a total of 1.39 billion steps! That’s a happier, healthier ending than I could have ever imagined.  I’m thankful for technology like IoT, supportive management and the inspirational colleagues who helped drive my results and the overall success of the program.

I predict we will see a lot more of this in the future as IoT fitness technology evolves and companies in all industries embrace advanced, fun and engaging ways to improve employee’s lives and well-being.