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Activity Trackers Benefit or Big Brother? 21st Century wellness programme

By Lara Wood
Rehabilitation Consultant

Activity Trackers

Benefits for the individual

We all want to be fit and healthy. Whether you want to lose a little weight, get active, or sleep better, activity trackers are leading the way to better health. 

The data activity trackers log a range of data about the activities undertaken, number of steps taken, calories burned, sleep quality, with meaningful feedback and statistics placed onto an online profile where progress can be monitored.  Areas are identified to help individuals change habits and actively manage their lifestyles. Development in this area, will see apps that can sense the onset of chronic illnesses or stress. 

What is it about activity trackers that works?

Motivation and accountability

With the increased awareness of health risks and the desire to be more active and healthy, coupled with the low costs of many wearable trackers, many individuals are tracking their activity at home and at work. And we know that activity trackers change our behaviour: for example users start parking further away from the shops, going for more walks to bring daily step counts up to the 10,000 step goal. 

Increase in regular activity is one of the most effective disease prevention. Physical activity:

  • Reduces feelings of depression
  • Improves stamina and strength
  • Reduces obesity particularly when combined with diet
  • Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Not only do the scientific qualities of trackers appeal, but also their motivational ones. They provide the latest stats on your progress, with some also sharing these results with friends who wear the same brand: what you could call fitness through naming and shaming. 

Benefits for the employer

With the increased awareness of health risks within the workforce and the low cost of these trackers, more and more organisations are adding these gadgets to their employee wellness programmes and opting to monitor data via dashboards, providing behavioural insights into their employees. Activity trackers are suitable for all, regardless of age, ability or geographical location. Rather than only offering employees a discount on gym membership, which only 1 in 10 people will ever use, they are also offering them activity trackers.  Some employers are holding their employees to account with rewards as part of their wellness programmes providing discount on health insurance. 

Activity trackers are designed to boost the health and productivity of employees. Many workplaces are encouraging employees to compete with each other and share their information, such as global corporate challenges where progress can be tracked virtually.  Employees who enjoy their job and interact with their co-workers are less likely to find a job elsewhere, keeping recruitment costs down. 

A healthier workforce is a happier workforce, and is more productive, saving a company money in sickness costs. A win for the workforce and the company.

Where do we draw the line?  

Activity trackers can be used to monitor exactly how employees work, with some companies using gadgets to track location specific tasks, with this in mind, it all depends on how the data provided by the trackers is used. Companies need to be transparent about what they are gathering similar to how they use customer information. If the data is used in the aggregate to help reduce financial costs to the employer by demonstrating a healthier workforce, that is beneficial to the organisation. 

When does an incentive become an intrusion into someone’s personal life? When the employer becomes big brother. At present, privacy risks are relatively low for employees.  Employers who have employee wellbeing programmes receive information on specific results in aggregate form but as the scope of data captured widens and can be more specifically attributed to individuals, it will need a high degree of mutual trust between employee and employer to avoid any implications of ‘big brother’ and intrusion into someone’s personal life. 

One thing is for sure though: wearable technology is advancing rapidly and the benefits are growing for both employee and employers who wish to support employees’ health and wellbeing.

Interesting fact  Did you know that in 2008 the metabo law was introduced in Japan which mandates a maximum waistline of 33.5 inches for men, and 35.4 inches for women, aged between 45 and 74 years of age.  Waist lines are measured once a year as part of an annual checkup, that's 56 million waistlines. 

Your contact

Your contact

Lara Broadwell

Lara Broadwell

Rehabilitation Consultant

Tel: +44 113 290 6289

lara.broadwell@uk.qbe.com