Employers Investing in Technology to Improve Employee Wellness

Employers are willing to invest the money on emerging technologies aimed at improving employee wellbeing, but they face challenges with budgets and issues of confidentiality and privacy.

Even though it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of, or return on investment for, emerging technologies aimed at improving employee wellbeing, US employers are willing to make the investment, according to new findings from a study by Xerox Human Resources Services, undertaken in conjunction with the National Business Group on Health.

The biannual study, “Emerging Technology to Promote Employee Wellbeing,” examines the current use and future potential of 4 technologies:

  • Gamification (the application of typical elements of game playing and design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve goals)
  • Mobile technologies
  • Wearable sensors
  • Social media

The study was based on a 2015 survey of more than 210 employers. More than 70% of respondents were multinational organizations. The median employer size was 10,000 to 24,999 employees; 17% had a workforce over 100,000 people.

The highest priority was mobile technology, with more than half of survey respondents reporting that they are using apps and associated technologies to provide their employees with a consumer experience that matches the tablet and smartphone lifestyle. Mobile technology is also the largest growth area since the last survey was undertaken in 2013, which cited 16% mobile usage. Gamification, social networking, and wearable sensors were all said to have similar usage of about one-third of responding employers.

Wearable sensors were not even studied in the 2013 survey. In the current survey wearable sensors, which allow activity tracking and thus the most direct feedback to employees on their wellbeing (as well as providing employers with data on the impact of the technology on employee engagement in health), are now used by 37% of respondents, and another 37% are planning to adopt the technology in the coming years. This uptick in use of wearable sensor technology reflects the need for results-driven data, according to the National Business Group on Health.

The greatest barrier preventing business and organizations from using these new technologies is competition from higher-priority issues in their budgets. Thirty percent of respondents said confidentiality and privacy issues were also barriers to use, particularly with respect to social media.

“New technology, such as wearables, providers employers with an opportunity to motivate and empower employees to take an active role in their own healthcare experience,” Karen Marlo, vice president of the National Business Group on Health, said in a statement.

Changes in benefit program design increasingly require individuals to take personal responsibility for their wellbeing. For their part, employers must identify programs that provide individualized support and measureable results for employee wellbeing, and work to positively affect health and wealth, she said.