Madison Magazine

Keeping health on track with wearables

Wrist-based activity trackers and smart watches aren't just personal—they can be a part of corporate wellness programs

Wearable fitness devices are one of the fastest growing consumer technologies, but wrist-based activity trackers and smart watches aren't just personal—they can be a part of corporate wellness programs.

According to a 2015 survey by human resources consulting firm Mercer, 24 percent of companies with 500-plus employees encourage employees to track their activity with a wearable device. Robert Grant, a principal with Mercer's Wisconsin operations, says many wellness programs offer financial incentives for wearables use, such as a small employee break on health insurance, or a health savings account contribution.

At American Family Insurance, 54 percent of its 6,711-employee workforce has registered an activity tracking device in the company's wellness program. Of those, 96 percent are uploading fitness data, says Janet Masters, a company spokesperson. 

At Summit Credit Union, more employees are making use of fitness wearables, says Joanne Belanger, VP of digital marketing and public relations. While there are no set financial incentives for using a wearable, the credit union has organized some team activity tracking competitions, and employees have won small prizes as part of these.

Belanger wears an Apple Watch, and her sense is that more coworkers are using some type of fitness wearable. "They seem to motivate people to compete against themselves," she says. "So if a person takes 9,000 steps one day, they want to do better the next day."

Wearables as a part of wellness programs is "definitely on the rise, though I wouldn't call it a majority practice quite yet," says Abigail Nadler, a health promotions advisor with M3 Insurance, an insurance broker that also helps companies establish wellness programs. "It has become a social norm to see these devices being worn in the workplace, which makes it easier to start the conversation about encouraging their use in wellness programs," she says. 

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