Top tips on using wearable technology effectively within benefits and reward

Wearable tech

Need to know:

  • To be effective, employers need to define what purpose they want to achieve by using wearable technology; this will help identify what data will be most useful to collect.
  • A clear and transparent communications approach is vital to mitigate employee fears around data privacy and boost engagement.
  • Information from wearable technology should be used in conjunction with other data sets, such as absence statistics, in order to inform wider wellbeing strategies.

As it becomes ubiquitous in employees’ personal lives, wearable technology is increasingly becoming a cog in corporate strategies, especially when it comes to health and wellbeing approaches.

More than a third (36%) of UK employees believe that increased productivity is a benefit of using wearable technology in the workplace, according to research by Office Genie published in June 2017. Furthermore, 43% cite employee wellness as an advantage of using wearable devices at work, compared to 41% who think this technology can help reap health benefits for staff.

Matthew Lawrence, chief broking officer, health solutions, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Aon, explains: “Technology is moving and evolving at a really rapid pace; it therefore makes sense that employers think about changing their behaviour in the way they encourage behaviour change in their employees. They need to embrace technology.”

Clarify the purpose

Firstly, employers should identify what they want to achieve by the introduction of wearable technology, outlining a clear purpose. For example, wearables might be used to influence positive health behaviours, boost engagement and social interactions, or connect with hard-to-reach populations that do not currently display healthy habits. Employers also need to consider whether wearable technology is the right cultural fit for the business altogether.

David Plans, chief executive officer at BioBeats, explains: “Using wearables for the sake of using wearables, because it’s a fad, is not going to yield either interesting data or buy-in from employees.

“[Employers] have to tie it into a larger mission, and it should be really meaty, like reducing absences for mental health, increasing referrals to the [employee assistance] programme, or changing the entire perception of what it means to be mentally well and be happy in work. The mission has to be broad and courageous, it has to be brave and transparent, otherwise there’s no point in using wearables at all.”

Creating a strategy

To really benefit, João Bocas, keynote speaker and wearables expert, advises that employers should create a wearables strategy, just as they would for any core area of their business.

This should encompass more than the occasional step challenge, adds Plans: “[Employers] need to look at the whole human being, so capture data on emotional fitness and stress fitness, as well as physical fitness, and look at sleep.

“Look at as much data as possible to help each employee understand what their base line is and then optimise for every aspect of their lives, as opposed to just a bit of extra physical activity.”

A strategy around wearable technology could also look to offer rewards for engagement, such as points, vouchers or products for achieving targets via a wearable device.

In addition, any strategy should also be future-thinking and sustainable. “All too often with wearables and technology, it has a high impact, but then quickly drops off. Think about not only what [to do] from day one, but how to make the whole thing work and make it long-lasting,” Lawrence notes.

Open communication

Research published by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) in June 2016 found that 37% of UK employees do not trust their employer not to use data from wearable technology against them in some way. With this in mind, an open and transparent communications approach is vital in order to mitigate privacy concerns, as well as encourage engagement.

Lawrence explains: “It has to be really well communicated, so that it’s clear to employees that [the employer is] trying to do this in a positive way, make [staff] healthier, happier, more resilient, and [that] it’s a good part of their life as opposed to something to be feared.”

Emphasising to staff that individual data will not be used, and that any aggregated data that is collected will be shared with everyone, is essential, as is communicating the purpose of using wearable technology to staff.

Plans also suggests highlighting that requirements under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on the collection, curation and storage of data will be adhered to.

Education and communications on wearable devices themselves could also prove useful, adds Bocas. This could include practical tips, such as reminders to charge the device.

Using the data

The anonymised and aggregated staff data that can be collected via wearable technology can provide useful, high-level insights on overall employee health, informing and directing wider wellbeing strategies.

This information could also pinpoint specific health concerns for certain geographies or demographics, and the risk profile that comes through can then be fed into a targeted wellbeing and communication approach.

Data collected from wearable technology, furthermore, could be used alongside absence data, occupational health statistics, medical and disability claim information and benefits take-up records to build a picture of how healthy the workforce is and where issues might lie.