By Greg Okhifun
Digital technology is fast changing how we do things in the workplace. With an app on your smartphone, you can easily schedule and attend a meeting, get alerts on new applicants for a job, or even monitor workflow in the workplace.
Digital technology has also permeated the health and wellness industry with the use of wearable devices designed to evaluate and improve employee health. From fitness-tracking bands designed by Fitbit, Mio, Nike, and Microsoft, to Smartwatches such as Apple Watch and the Pebble Watch, many employers are increasingly incorporating wearable technology into their wellness initiatives to promote the health and productivity of their employees.
The Employee Wellbeing Research 2017 revealed a 37 percent growth in the percentage of employers who offered wearable technology as part of employee wellness initiatives. This includes offering access to wellness apps, wearable devices, virtual reality, and telemedicine.
This move is not about to end anytime soon: PWC estimates that by 2020, more than 75 million wearables will be introduced into the workplace globally, and this is projected to earn companies more than $60 billion in 2022. This implies that employers are interested in taking proactive steps to improve workers health by investing in this preventive strategy.
Wearable Technology in the Workplace: What are the Benefits?
What changes is wearable technology bringing to the fore for an employee and what do employers stand to gain?
Improve Employee Health and Productivity
A healthy employee is more likely to be productive than an unhealthy one – this is where wearable technology comes to play. The benefits of these devices extend beyond ROI as they create a healthy workplace culture, which in turn, breeds employee productivity and engagement.
Through digital platforms synced with wearable devices, employers, and workers themselves can evaluate their health and lifestyle status, identify health risks, and make healthier diet and lifestyle choices.
Consequently, when individuals make better health choices, their risks of these diseases reduce, in turn, lowering the rates of absenteeism, presenteeism, days off work for health reasons, and improving their performance at work.
These wearable-based wellness programs keep chronic diseases – hypertension, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity – in check by keeping track of employees’ activity levels, heart rate, and blood pressure, while other devices such as exoskeletons help to minimize musculoskeletal tension from lifting and carrying heavy materials. These chronic diseases are among the major causes of productivity loss and high healthcare costs in the workplace, and wearable technology is right on time to address them.
Energysole, for example, new tech footwear designed to monitor activity levels and also provide good foot support on-the-go, generates step-by-step performance with data transmitted directly to the Energysole app. This app provides details of activity levels and, with the use of in-built algorithms, recommends activity modifications to the user for optimal health.
Another striking example of the huge impact of wearable technology in employee health is with the use of exoskeletons. Workers at Audi who used exoskeletons in a pilot program testing the efficiency of these devices reported experiencing 20 percent to 30 percent less strain on the back muscles. Users can wear the exoskeleton like a piece of clothing, covering the body down to the thighs.
Increase Workplace Safety
Work stress can predispose to injuries and accidents at work and companies are beginning to introduce wearable devices that can monitor and check an individual’s stress levels.
One of these devices is VivaLNK Vital Scout, a wearable patch that continuously monitors the user’s stress levels. Workers can wear it 24 hours a day, over 2 to 3 days to provide analysis of one’s stress level over that period.
Using ECG sensors, the Vital Scout delivers a comprehensive analysis of the user’s heart rhythm pattern at wake and sleep times to evaluate their stress levels. This gives an employer and the workers insight into abnormal stress patterns, which helps to make modifications in work pattern and design to reduce employee stress levels.
At GE Aviation, managers are taking safety up a notch with wearable technology. With the use of smart glasses, mechanics can build engines requiring tightening nuts without having to stop and check a reference manual.
These smart glasses use Upskill’s Skylight software that guides mechanics through difficult tasks. Receiving information from the smart glasses to the Skylight servers, Skylight can inform the mechanic if a nut is properly tightened or sealed before moving on to the next task. Jet engine manufacturers say they lose millions of dollars due to these mechanical errors every year, also putting potential aircraft passengers at risk of accidents.
Improve Workplace Inclusiveness
By syncing workers’ devices together, supervisors can create healthy fitness challenges, with each helping the other to achieve the common goal. This creates a more inclusive workplace, bringing the staff together, talking to each other, seeking out ways to achieve whatever health goal set before them.
Such challenges can be team-based, inter-departmental, or CEO-led, depending on what the staff is comfortable with. Ultimately, this creates a wellness culture that also boosts each employee’s performance and engagement, and each remains motivated about their health and work.
To further drive participation in such wellness programs, employers may introduce incentives with the use of wearable devices or offer advanced apps with in-built incentives. Incentives employers may offer include lunch vouchers, gift cards, or fitness clothing for achieving an activity goal, for instance.
Wearable technology in the workplace is indeed a step in the right direction for corporate wellness programs. With the right metrics and appropriate privacy standards in place, health can literally be in the hands of the employee, keeping tabs on where they are in their health and what they need to do to improve.