An excellent article published  on this site by Liz Carey does an admirable job of discussing the trend towards wearable technology in the wellness business. She informed us that recent studies have found that employee wellness programs are making great strides in adopting wearable technology. She says:

“According to a study from ABI Research, it’s estimated that by 2018, more than 13 million health and fitness tracking devices will be integrated into U.S. employers’ wellness programs. By the end of 2016, nearly 21 percent of US adults with online access used a fitness tracker, and as much as 46 percent of employers offered some sort of subsidizing for wearable devices as part of their wellness program, according to research from Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO).”

Personally, I am not yet convinced of the claimed effectiveness and cost savings from these employee wellness programs. I say that because, as a nation, everybody is involved in “wellness”, but we do not seem to be getting healthier. Health insurance costs are up. Obesity is up. Diabetes is surging. Everybody and their brother, if the media is to be believed, has a pre-existing condition that will cause them to die when the proposed Republican health plan murders them and their entire family while they sleep, or something like that. Everyone seems to be looking for that magic pill that they can swallow, and suddenly be more vibrant and alive. And thin. Can’t forget thin. That easy elixir is not yet available, and I am not convinced of the necessary commitment from the population in general when it comes to prevention and wellness.

In my office, we do not have an employee wellness plan. In fact, when looking around, I think our offices might be on top of a huge radon leak, or ancient cemetery. You must bear in mind some of us have worked together for almost 20 years. We used to have hair, or our hair used to have color. We used to have teeth. Some of us have grown in stature, becoming twice the person we used to be. When we talk about wearables in the office, we are much more likely to be talking about Depends versus Fitbit.

I just haven’t seen the evidence that tells us employee wellness programs work. Of course, that could be because my eyes aren’t what they once were.

Ms. Carey’s article informs us that “54 percent of employers said more than 50 percent of their employees were still using their wearable devices six months after their wellness program launched, and 95 percent said they would continue offering fitness trackers as part of their wellness programs due to high employee satisfaction.” The article did not mention that 80% of those employees had already lost the charger for their wearable device, and were simply unable to remove them from their oversized wrists. I attribute the “high satisfaction” to the fact that employees like to get free crap.

Still, I do see some benefit to deploying wearable tech in my office. Some of these devices are supposed to be able to alert the user when their pulse rate has exceeded certain parameters. We could use a device that alerts us when a pulse stops all together. Knowing there was a cubicle available earlier than we would have otherwise would help us better manage our facility. Plus, it beats the old way of figuring out one is up for grabs. That takes longer and requires a lot of Febreze.

Also, a wearable device designed to deliver a mild shock, say 50,000 volts, when it detects the wearer has fallen asleep would increase productivity; not to mention the sound of its discharge and resulting response would be great entertainment for the rest of the office.

Three years ago, I wrote about RFID technology and the coming use of wearables in the workplace. That piece discussed the NFL’s use of RFID chips embedded in the protective gear of football players to produce detailed micro-stats regarding their moves and actions. I predicted that the technology would have tremendous applications in the world of monitoring and safety management. I still believe that to be the case, that these “black box wearables” will become the norm in many situations where employers have become focused on prevention.

And I’m not just saying that because I own the domain, and am willing to sell it at a handsome profit.

But wellness? Many of the studies that support the trend in wellness programs seem to be conducted by those agencies and organizations that have a vested interest in the continued propagation of these programs. I’m not saying the studies are not legitimately constructed, but some research performed by disinterested parties would be more convincing overall.

It is possible that the widespread deployment of wearable monitoring devices under the guise and tutelage of “Employee Wellness”, will have an impact in the “Black Box Wearables” area as well. Liz Carey points out that “wearable devices can be used to track the location and activity of a user, as well as their emotional responses to situations”, and that this data could be used in litigation or other investigative activities. That potential could have real impact on a company’s bottom line.

So, in my mind, even if the use of wearables might be dubious when it comes to improving employee wellness, it is pretty obvious that they could really improve employer fiscal health.

And that is something a Depends undergarment just cannot promise. 


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