Improving the wellbeing of staff has become increasingly important for employers. Nick Martindale looks at how technology can play a role in improving employee health
In recent years, the issue of workplace health has been steadily rising up the agenda, with most employers now appreciating the link between healthy and productive staff, and between those who live unhealthy lifestyles and high levels of absence. The emphasis has, rightly, been on all aspects of health, ranging from identifying illnesses to improving physical health, and, more recently, a greater focus on mental health and wellbeing.
"The main technologies are employee portals and websites, health incentive apps and wearables such as Fitbits and Apple watches," says Gary Peace, corporate sales manager at The Health Insurance Group.
Apps and online portals
Employee benefit providers are also getting in on the act, either developing apps or online products themselves or introducing third-party products.
But despite the growing emergence of apps there are still barriers. Matthew Lawrence, head of proposition, health and risk at Aon Employee Benefits, believes employers are still figuring out just how best to use this new technology in the workplace, although its own research suggests that 94% of employers feel responsible for trying to positively influence the lifestyle risks of their employees.
Employers also need to ensure they interpret data from any use of technology and tailor their strategy accordingly, if they are to get full value from such initiatives.
"The ability to use technology to promote good health and educate employees, support employees when they have a health situation and to potentially prevent a medical situation evolving could be a key people risk-management tool for the future. It is possibly not that far away."
How Manifest encouraged its staff to become more active
Branding and marketing agency Manifest (pictured) places a strong emphasis on employee wellbeing, so when it heard about the concept of Sweatcoin and how it would reward staff for becoming more active the company was keen to give it a go.
The business became the first user of the new app, rolling it out to its 30 employees in London and five in the New York office.
"We know that productivity increases when our staff are well, healthy and active, and I really liked the idea that we could provide some softer benefits for employees based around how well they were, to motivate them to maintain movement in their daily routine," says Manifest CEO Alex Myers.
The employees "crowdsourced" the rewards they could access, which include getting Myers to make a round of tea as well as discounted gym membership, yoga classes and massage.
The company has used the app for four months and so far the results have been encouraging.
"The thing that surprised me most of all is the change in behaviour," says Myers. "It has made people more active. We now see meetings in the diary as being a walk around the block."
The business has a variety of employees ranging from "fitness bunnies to couch potatoes", but the appeal has been across the board.
"Because Sweatcoin isn't based on exercise but motion and movement it's really accessible for everyone," says Myers. "We have people walking to work and getting out at lunchtime instead of eating al-desko."
The business has even been able to monitor impact on morale, through a piece of software it already has to record the mood of staff.
"We have a happiness officer who monitors that and we have seen it improve," adds Myers. "Wellbeing and happiness go hand in hand in the office environment."
Even four months in, Myers says there's a buzz around the app.
"There's not a day goes by when someone doesn't mention Sweatcoin or how they should spend them," he says. "It's become part of the office culture very quickly."
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The technology to improve employees’ wellbeing is already here. But it is now in employers’ hands to make sure it is used to create successful corporate wellness programmes