How fitness trackers can motivate employees to be more active

Fitness trackers are popular tools for consumers to monitor their physical activity. According to the Health Enhancement Research Organization, almost half of employers have introduced some version of the device into their wellness program — from simple pedometers to more advanced options.

By 2018, ABI Research predicts that employees will use more than 13 million devices as part of a workplace wellness program.

“Incorporating fitness trackers into a wellness program is a good way to create a long-term culture of health within an organization,” says Veronica Hawkins, Medical Mutual vice president of Government Accounts. “They can help employees stay healthy, plus counteract rising health care costs.”

Smart Business spoke with Hawkins about the benefits of integrating fitness trackers into an employee wellness program, how to encourage participation and why many workers have already embraced the devices as part of their daily physical activity — both at work and at home.

Why are fitness trackers getting so popular?

They can be very useful tools to help people manage their lifestyle. Walking is one of the best ways to get and stay fit, but most people don’t know how much they actually do in a day.

While pedometers served that purpose in the past, the new devices can do a lot more. They typically show your progress in real time, on a smartphone, tablet or computer. So it’s easier, and more fun, for users to track their progress to meet their goals — and eventually, to set new ones.

How can organizations take advantage?

Fitness trackers can usually be integrated into an existing wellness program, where there are multiple opportunities for employees to earn wellness incentives. Through various challenges, employees log data and receive messaging about their progress from their employer as well as the vendor. Employees start connecting online with co-workers, often leading to friendly competition that drives engagement.

Some organizations may even pay for the devices to encourage employees to get started.

What about incentives?

There are definitely a variety of strategies organizations can use, but it really depends on what’s going to motivate their particular employees. Some organizations might offer a day off for meeting a weekly or monthly step goal, or give out monetary incentives like gift cards.

Medical Mutual, which introduced the devices to its wellness program two years ago, contributes money into employee health savings accounts for meeting various step goals.

What else can make the process successful?

The goal of introducing fitness trackers to a wellness program is to help employees reach their fitness goals. But it’s also to affect real behavioral changes that become part of their life style.

To do that, organizations just need to make their programs fun and engaging. Simplicity is also important. The easier it is for employees to participate, the more sustainable any behavioral changes will be.

Are there common obstacles?

With the popularity of fitness trackers, employees are often excited to participate. But there can be concerns about privacy and sharing information with employers. It’s important to be clear with employees that the information is being used to benefit them, not penalize them. And, that only information relevant to the program, like total steps, will be tracked.

There are usually consent agreements employees have to sign to share their data, so they have a choice. But in most cases, this issue isn’t a significant barrier.

What are the first steps?

If organizations want to invest in fitness trackers for their wellness program, it’s a good idea to start with their insurance carrier. Many already have direct partnerships with companies that either make or distribute some type of wearable activity tracking device. There are usually opportunities for discounts, as well as additional benefits.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by Medical Mutual