WILL WEARABLES TRANSFORM EMPLOYEE WELLBEING?
As businesses put greater emphasis on employee health and wellbeing, their use of wearable technology increases. Due to the latest technological advances, the boundaries of innovation and product development are being pushed further, with the wearables market expected to peak at $265.4 billion by 2026, according to MarketsandMarkets.
The wearables evolution started with Fitbits and smartwatches tracking physical activity, nutrition and sleep as employers have looked to improve their staff’s health. Now it has been extended to mental wellbeing with apps that monitor workers’ moods and feelings.
Wearables unlock more data for businesses, brokers and insurers
The technology also makes the insurance journey more seamless for the broker, the insurer, and the client. Being able to capture data about an individual or workforce allows underwriters to price more accurately and offer more competitive premiums.
It can also help settle claims quicker and improve loss ratios, while businesses can improve performance and productivity, and increase engagement with employees.
“With better health, employees won’t need to go to the doctors as often,” said Manus Chan, Director of Benefits – Pacific Prime-CXA (WBN Member in HK and Singapore). “This lowers the overall number of claims per policy year, as well as healthcare costs. It may also lead to a change in coverage level offered by the insurer. Better still, it may even result in a reduction in premiums.”
The employee benefit sector is reaping the rewards
By far the biggest growth area in wearables is employee benefits. With healthcare costs continuing to spiral, many organizations have been doing what they can to promote a healthier and happier workforce, meaning fewer absences and more productive workers, as well as making themselves the employer of choice for new hires.
Wearables allow companies to capture the relevant data and build a picture of an employee’s current physical and mental health. They can then use that information to create wellbeing programs and help employees instill healthier habits. The technology can prompt employees about a goal they need to achieve, or simply remind them they need to get up from their desk and move around.
At the cutting edge of this technology is Moodbeam, a wearable device which asks staff to record their feelings and aggregates the data for the employer to assess the overall mood of their workforce. It can also be used to identify key triggers for stress, increased blood pressure and many other medical conditions.
“There are many different types of devices out there that capture a wide range of data,” said Ed Watling, Healthcare Business Development Manager at Mattioli Woods (WBN Member in UK). “But it’s how that information is used by a company to improve its employees’ physical and mental wellbeing that’s key.”
To wear or not to wear, that’s the employee question
While the benefits of wearables are obvious, the biggest challenge is around data privacy and ‘big brother’ syndrome, particularly where this information is being captured outside of the workplace. Workers are often reluctant to share their data because they’re suspicious about how their employer will use it and whether it will count against them further down the line.
Companies need to be upfront with employees about the fact that the data is being used to improve the individual’s health and wellbeing. To help get their buy-in, they can gamify the process and set up team challenges to achieve certain goals, such as number of steps or distance travelled over a period of time.
While millennials and future generations have been quick to adopt this technology, others have struggled or are skeptical about its benefits.
“Companies need to make the process of using wearables fun and encourage employees to actively want to do it,” said Watling. “Once they do that, they will get a much bigger take-up and be able to produce meaningful results – then the biggest challenge is keeping staff engaged by constantly using the technology.”
These approaches work particularly well for firms looking to increase engagement across their global operations and make all employees feel part of a wider team.
Wearables can come at a cost, though, and businesses may be unwilling to invest in the latest expensive gadgets for their workers, particularly in lower-paying industries. One cost-effective solution is for companies to develop their own app that staff can use to record their data. Employees can then add the app to an existing device they already own.
Brokers and insurers can be the champions of new innovation
Brokers have an integral role to play in the development and distribution of wearables moving forward. With their specialist knowledge, they can quickly identify the key challenges clients face and advise them on the best solution.
“Moving forward, insurers and brokers can play a bigger role in keeping employees healthy,” said Chan. “Some insurers are already actively sending out personalized messages to encourage workers to stay healthy, while others recommend immediate treatment or advice on how to change their lifestyle for the better by tapping into data on their vitals.”
Chan continues: “With clients’ consent, insurers can also dive into historical wearable data in real-time to quickly decide whether it is indicative of a healthy lifestyle. Then employees can be sorted into different risk classes based on their profile and the premium can be adjusted to best fit each individual.”
While wearables uptake is on the increase, their long-term benefits are yet to be fully realized. Only time will tell the tangible results organizations can achieve.
Technology firms including Apple, Garmin, Google and Samsung and health and wellbeing companies such as Vitality and Virgin Pulse have been at the forefront of wearables growth, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. However, the technology’s development is still relatively disparate, with a host of different devices and apps available, and yet, no one, holistic solution.
Undoubtedly, the wearables market will continue to expand at a rapid rate with many winners and losers. It will be interesting to see how quickly and effectively companies choose to adopt this new technology and make it a mainstay of their employee wellbeing program.