Category: Corporate Wellness

Work-life balance is something nearly everyone strives for.  There are many ideas behind what work-life balance is as well as many methods to obtain it within the workforce. There has been a lot of buzz about Sweden adopting a shorter work day to increase productivity and create a happier workforce.  Did shorter days deliver on the its promise?  The results vary.

6hourlogoIn a yearlong experimental study funded by the Swedish government, nurses at a retirement home worked six-hour days on an eight-hour salary.  A control group at another facility was used for comparison purposes.  The study wanted to explore the impact of shorter workdays on productivity.  The results showed that 68 nurses who worked six-hour days took half as much sick time as those in the control group, and they were 2.8 times less likely to take any time off in a two-week period.

The six-hour work day is not a new concept as it has been tested before by various organizations, in Sweden and across the world.  A Toyota service center in Gothenburg, Sweden has successfully run a six-hour workweek for 13 years, which has resulted in a 25% profit gain and increases in employee health.  However, one Swedish home care services company also adopted this work concept from 1989 to 2005, but it was abolished due to a lack of data proving it was beneficial.

It is worth looking at the pros and cons of this method of creating a work-life balance to see if it is appropriate for an organization.  A shorter working week may be successful for some organizations but not others.  It often depends on company culture and industry.

Pros

  • Employees working long hours may experience burnout and become unproductive due to fatigue. Adopting a shorter workday may decrease the chances of burnout.
  • Shorter workdays may be a successful perk to increase employee retention and decrease staff turnover.
  • An overall healthier workforce will increase productivity and decrease sick days.

Cons

  • For many jobs, a six-hour work day is just not feasible. For example, six-hour workdays for doctors, school teachers, or emergency personnel is not feasible due to the requirements of those positions.
  • Distractions happen at the workplace. According to a study, employees spend an estimated 1.5 to three hours per day on personal activities such as email and social media.  If the workday is six hours, then, according to this study, employees will only be working around four hours per day.  Employees with constant access to computers or mobile technologies are more susceptible to distractions like personal email and social media.
  • In industries that are competitive or customer-service based, employers have to maintain compatibility with their competition. Therefore, if a company is available to customers for eight hours a day, it is in the best interest of its competition to do the same.  Sometimes matching availability is not feasible for shorter workdays because the availability window does not break up easily.

Companies differ in many ways and adopting a six-hour workday may work for some companies but not for others.  It is important for companies to consider culture to determine what employees really need with regards to gaining support for their health and wellness.  A shorter workday is not the only way to support a work-life balance.  Employers can offer longer vacation or paid time off as well as telecommuting options.  Employers should focus on work-life balance, employee health, and burnout, but since each organization is unique, the appropriate solutions for promoting work-life balance will differ from group to group.  Asking employees what will benefit them the most is a great way to start.


Category: Facts and Research

A new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has the digital health, employee wellness, and wearable community abuzz.  According to the study, wearable activity trackers can count steps and calories burned but cannot help users lose weight.  In fact, the study suggests one could lose more weight without a device.  Before one cues the moment silence for the wearable market, the details of the study need to laid out on the table.  After a quick review, the deficiencies in the study will be apparent.

The Study
Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center sought out to discover the impact, if any, that wearable activity monitors could have on weight loss.  They recruited 471 overweight men and women ages 18 to 35 to participate in a weight loss program.  The age range for the study was selected so that participants would be competent and familiar with technology, such as activity trackers.  The participants were self-identified as wanting to lose weight.

For the first six months of the study, followed a straightforward, low-calorie diet designed for steady weight loss and were encouraged to be more active (specifically, at least 100 minutes of moderate activity each week).  The end of this program resulted in every participant losing weight.

At this point, the researchers divided the participants into two groups.  The first group was asked to begin logging their daily exercise sessions onto a study website.  The second group received BodyMedia SenseWear activity trackers that provides feedback to the user on step counts, calories burned, and more.  Through occasional check ins from counselors and encouraging text messages, participants managed to log into the study website or wear the device on most days of the 18-month portion of the study.

After 18 months, most of the participants had lost weight (although many had regained the weight lost during the first six months of the study).  The first group, who used the study website, lost an average of 13 pounds while the second group, who used activity trackers, lost an average of eight pounds.


Interpreting The Results
Like many people, the researchers were surprised by the results.  One explanation was that devices could potentially be demotivating.  Imagine a user being so far from their step goal near the end of the day that rather than trying to bridge to gap partially, they instead choose to give up.  Another explanation was the participants may have focused on the technology rather than behaviors.

When interested parties from the wellness community weighed in, they pointed out considerable flaws in the study.  First, they pointed out that the study started in 2010 and the market for these technologies has come a long since then.  For example, BodyMedia SenseWear is no longer being made and its parent company is on the verge of going out of business.  Also, that version of the device did not have a display, users had to log into a website to see their stats, and the device was a clunky piece of hardware that had to be strapped the user’s upper arm. Today, practically every tracker has a monitor that shows numbers in real time and can connect with friends for social support.

Other critics point out that the age group of the study is narrowly defined.  Also, the study evaluated whether a clunky, early fitness tracker was a useful add-on to an already robust weight loss regimen (counseling, text messages, education).

Regardless of one’s opinion on the study, one thing is clear: studies on digital health have a hard time keeping up with technology.  By the time a study passes peer review and gets published, the technologies being evaluated often change dramatically.  Hopefully, this study will prompt more research on the topic.


Category: Corporate Wellness

Personal, individual health coaching is a vital part of a successful wellness program because of its ability to help people cope with preventable health risks and conditions.  Preventable diseases cost businesses thousands of dollars a year.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that productivity losses linked to absenteeism costs employers $225.8 billion annually in the United States, or $1,685 per employee.  This number is even higher when productivity losses, morale, and temporary labor costs are taken into account.  Another survey projected that the average annual cost per employee for healthcare exceeded $9,800 in 2013. The number has risen steadily since then.

Almost all companies with 200 employees or more offer some sort of wellness program that is available to their employees, among these offerings is onsite individual health coaching.  These coaches act as personal cheerleaders to employees and influence the entire workplace culture with their approach and demeanor.  Anyone can benefit from the services of a health coach through some of the ways listed below.

Healthy Behavior Changes
A health coach can assist employees in making healthy lifestyle changes and breaking bad habits, such as smoking, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, and chronic stress.  When working with a health coach, employees will be given the tools to identify unhealthy behaviors and strategies to turn the negative behaviors into positive ones.  Also, a health coach can help employees through the barriers that may be holding them back and guide them through their behavior changes each step of the way.  The personalized approach increases an employee’s chances of making sustainable changes towards the betterment of their health, and as a result, a healthier workforce allows a company to succeed.  In a recent study, participants lost a significant amount of weight when working with a health coach when compared to those working in a rigorous weight loss program without a health coach.  The study suggests that health coaches may be promising as a cost effective obesity treatment strategy.


Goal Setting
Setting goals is imperative to personal and professional success.  The challenges are that employees may not know how to set goals appropriately or how to successfully attain their goals.  A health coach can help your employees set goals using the SMART system, which is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time- bound.  Working together, the health coach can assist an employee in making SMART goals for themselves and help them achieve these goals one step at a time through communication and feedback.

Stress Reduction
Stress effects all employees at some point in their lives.  Sometimes an individual may not know how to handle that stress turns to unhealthy behaviors to mask it.  Masking can include drinking, eating (unhealthy or too much/too little), overworking, or smoking.  Often, individuals don’t even realize they are turning to these bad behaviors in response to stress, which makes it even harder to self-correct.  A health coach can help employees identify stressors and work through them in a healthy and manageable way.

So how does this help employers?  When your employees are healthy, achieving their goals and managing stress appropriately, they are more productive, have less sick days, and consume less healthcare.  By having a health coach by their side, employees are more likely to incorporate healthy behaviors into their day and be more successful in their professional responsibilities, which in turn makes a company’s culture stronger and a lot healthier!


Category: Facts and Research

According to an online survey of 2,000 Americans from Ketchum, a global research and analytics firm, 47% of American smartphone users have an app that tracks fitness, working out, health, or medicine.  Furthermore, 83% of people who use fitness or workout apps use them at least once a week.  The results of the survey are not surprising as mobile health continues to become regular interaction for individuals across the country.

The results do, however, highlight a challenge employers must address when designing their employee wellness program.  More and more individuals are adopting consumer health and wellness apps, and despite having market leaders, no single app or device has more than 50% market share in any category (steps, nutrition, etc.).  As a result, employers must decide whether to embrace the consumer movement or disrupt it with their own proprietary program.  Wellable supports the former.  Rather than interfering with what nearly half of Americans are currently using, employers support employees as they seek out and user consumer wellness technologies.  This will result in more sustainable engagement by allowing employees to identify and use the solutions that are best suited for them.

The survey also found that there’s an opportunity to educate with just over half (51%) of respondents feeling they have a lot to learn about how mHealth can benefit their health.  This is where employers can add the most value.  Employers can help educate employees on the consumer wellness technology options available to them.  By helping to facilitate the adoption process and outlining the benefits of these solutions, employers will be driving their program to success.


Category: Corporate Wellness

A recent article published on Slate, an online magazine of news, politics, technology, and culture, called workplace wellness programs a “sham”.  The article went on to describe how these programs, defined largely by biometric screenings and health risk assessments (HRAs), are really just cost shifting mechanisms from employers to employees.  As we read the article, we found ourselves agreeing with most of the individual points made in the entire piece yet disagreeing with the overall thesis.  For all wellness programs to be shams, these programs, as defined within the article, must be solely defined by biometric screenings, HRAs, and a number of other selectively bad services.  That being said, it is imprudent to throw the good out with the bad and characterize all wellness programs as a sham.  At the very end of the piece, the author offers hope:

“To make their employees healthier, it’s clear, employers need to totally redefine what a wellness program is.  A wellness program that’s actually about wellness would be entirely voluntary, not financially coercive.  It wouldn’t collect any personal health information from employees.  It wouldn’t weigh people or take their blood samples.  It would be truly a benefit, not a cost-saving measure.  It might reimburse employees for their gym or yoga studio memberships.  It might subsidize a community-supported agriculture membership.”

The problem with the author’s call to action is that it assumes that programs like these do not exist and that all wellness vendors promote “sham” services.  For years, Wellable has been fighting against screenings, HRAs, and excess testing.  It would have been easy for us to add these services to our solution; instead, we wrote countless blog posts and a free eBook about the myths of biometric screenings.  Furthermore, all of our programs are voluntary and do not collect personal health information.  We don’t mention this with shameless self-promotion or as if Wellable is the only company with this approach.  We find that more and more employers, brokers, and health plans are moving away from wellness as a sham to wellness as a benefit, and although the change is slower than many would like, there is a noticeable shift in how groups think about employee wellness.

5 Ugly Truths About Biometric Screenings

 
If the author (or the many people she quoted in the article) genuinely want to see a change in the employee wellness, they may best be served by identifying the specific programs that are dragging the industry to a point beyond redemption and promoting those programs that satisfy the criteria that they feel is gold standard.


Category: Facts and Research

According to a new report from IDC, market share in wearable device shipments for Q2 2016 saw fairly significant shifts relative to previous quarters.  Most notably, the Apple Watch saw its number of shipments drop more than 50% year-over-year.  Garmin also continues their strong growth, effectively grabbing the number three spot in the rankings.  Total shipment volume for the quarter came to 22.5 million units, up 26.1% from the 17.8 million units shipped in Q2 2015.  The table below breaks down the details of the shipments and ranks the leaders by market share.

q2-2016-market-share
The data provides a number of insights into the corporate wellness market so we thought we would talk about some of them below.

Fitbit Remains At The Top
Fitbit ended the quarter the same way it began it: as the undisputed worldwide leader of wearable devices.  In Q2 2016, the global leader was able to hold their top ranking with market share in line with Q2 2015 (~25%).  The latest Charge 2 and Flex 2 devices indicate that the company is maturing by giving form and function equal importance.  Fitbit’s recent acquisition of the wearable payment assets of Coin also indicate the company is looking to expand features that will help improve retention.

Xiaomi Continues To Focus In Asia And On Cost
Xiaomi delivered approximately the same number of units year-over-year (3.1 million), resulting in a small drop in market share from 17.2% in Q2 2015 to 14.0% in Q2 2016.  Despite this drop, Apple’s significant drop in units allowed Xiaomi to move to the second spot in the rankings.  The Xiaomi Mi Bands remain extremely popular in China, and in every technology market, Xiaomi continues to focus on the value conscious consumers.  The challenge for Xiaomi, however, is growing beyond China’s borders and onto the global stage.

Apple
As the only one of the market leaders to see a drop in units shipped (and a big one), Apple likely suffered from not having launched a new device since it debuted the Apple Watch.  The good news for the company is that it launched the new Apple Watch at their event last week.

Garmin = Growth
By quadrupling the growth of the entire market, Garmin is becoming a force to be reckoned with, especially in the Americas and Europe.  It continues to launch a number of devices for all types of users, which should bode well for their shipment growth.

BYOD For Wellness
The rise of numerous devices with no single brand comprising the majority of the market share creates a challenge for employers.  This challenge is why Wellable encourages the implementation of a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy for wellness.  A BYOD strategy for wellness allows employers to embrace all forms of wellness technologies, including devices and apps that are not Fitbit, Apple Watch, or Xiaomi.  It will enable consumer choice and result in lower costs for your program.  Download our free white paper for more information on BYOD for wellness.


Category: Regulatory

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published final guidance articulating the difference between the “low-risk” digital health apps, devices for general health management, and those apps and devices that needed FDA 510(k) clearance.  In short, the FDA provided information on the kinds of apps and devices for which it will and will not take action.  Apps that assist in promoting or maintaining a healthy weight or with weight loss goals and healthy eating are not going to be subject to FDA approval.  However, apps that claim it will treat or diagnose obesity, an eating disorder, such as bulimia or anorexia, or an anxiety disorder will be subject to FDA scrutiny.  Since the FDA does not have the resources to screen the tens of thousands of digital health apps that are available in the market, the strategy to separate “low-risk” tools had to be done.

The FDA decision did not help employers that want to embrace digital health tools but also do not have the resources to identify appropriate technologies for their employees.  The good news is that Apple established rules for digital health companies aspiring to use the technology giant’s iOS network.  Below are some of the changes:

  • Apple will now have the ability to reject apps that have the potential to cause any physical harm.
  • Medication calculation or dosage apps must be developed by a drug manufacturer, hospital, university, health insurance company, or other approved entity, which means individuals cannot publish an app to manage medication dosage to the app store.
  • No more marijuana-related apps.
  • Apps that encourage people to place their iPhones under a mattress or pillow while charging (such as those that monitor sleep) will no longer be allowed.
  • If an app provides inaccurate data or information that could be used to diagnose or treat patients, it will get increased scrutiny.

With Apple’s iOS screening process having influence on the digital health community, their commitment to high quality digital health apps will be a boon for consumers globally, and as a result, employers will also be beneficiaries.  Employees will have less access to low quality and/or dangerous health technologies, and many of these app developers will likely have to shut their doors or improve their quality.  This will create more opportunities for higher quality tools and provide those companies with more resources to invest in their solutions.


Category: Corporate Wellness

Whether you are trying to build a case for financial wellness at your organization or assessing the need for it, a new survey from GoBankingRates will help you cover the top causes of stress in your area.  The statistics below focus on the aggregate results from 7,000 respondents from all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., but the link above provides specific information for each state so employers can see if their population differs from the entire group.  Below are the top seven cause of financial stress based on responses from the survey.

  • Paying off debt (cited by 20.6% of respondents)
  • Not being able to retire (15.6%)
  • Not having enough money to survive an emergency (15.6%)
  • Wanting a nicer lifestyle (14.0%)
  • Paying for education (13.1%)
  • Lack of stable income (11.7), and
  • Paying mortgage or rent (9.4%)

It is important to note that paying off debt was cited as the top source of financial stress in 32 states and was tied for first in Rhode Island (tied with lack of stable income), Maine (tied with not being able to retire), and New Hampshire (tied with not having enough money to survive an emergency).  This should be a key indicator of what financial wellness programs should focus on.

Given that a 2016 PwC survey found that more than a quarter (28%) of employees said financial issues are a distraction at work (a 20% increase from PwC’s 2015 findings), employers should be proactively addressing the financial health of their employees through benefits (e.g., 401 (k) plans) and education (e.g., seminars).

Budgeting concerns should not be a reason for employers to sit idly waiting as the problem gets worse.  For those employers with a 401 (k) plan, the plan administrator should have free financial wellness resources for their clients to use.  There are also a number of advocacy groups and wellness vendors, including Wellable, that offer a free financial wellness seminar/webinar.


Category: Mobile Wellness

Fitbit continues to expand their product line by announcing new versions of the Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Charge devices.  Since the Flex has been a staple of corporate wellness programs since it was released in 2013, the update maybe seen as long overdue for that device.  Below are brief highlights for each device.

Flex 2
According to a Fitbit blog post about the new device, the Fitbit Flex 2 is a “swim-proof” fitness wristband with a removable tracker that can track activity, exercise, and sleep.  The first ever “swim-proof” device removes any concern about getting it wet, which means it can track swimming.  The tracker is also 30% smaller than the original Flex and designed to be incorporated into more fashion-forward form factors, such as bands, bracelets, or pendants.  For example, Fitbit is selling stainless bangles that come in gold, rose gold, and silver that can discreetly hold the tracker.  With fashion concerns being an alleged cause of device adherence, the Flex 2 attacks the challenge head on.

Charge 2
The Fitbit Charge 2 will track activity, heart rate, and sleep.  The sleep features include the ability to create a sleep schedule, complete with bedtime reminders and a silent vibrating alarm for gentle wake ups.  Similar to other devices, the Charge 2 also includes reminders to get active.  The display is four times larger than the device’s predecessor, the Charge HR.  It also allows users to receive notifications from their smartphone.  According to Fitbit, the Charge HR revolutionized the industry by bringing automatic heart rate tracking to the wrist, and now Charge 2 will take that technology to the next level with an “enhanced exercise experience and new health and fitness tools…, including Cardio Fitness Level and Relax.”  Cardio Fitness Level is an estimate VO2 max that calculated based on a user’s profile, heart rate, and exercise data.  Relax is a guided mindfulness feature that creates a personalized breathing experience to calm the body and mind.  The Charge 2 also includes Connected GPS, which allows the device to use the GPS in a paired smartphone to enhance tracking statistics.

Fitbit Adventures
Fitbit also announced a new app feature call Adventures, which is a series of personal, non-competitive immersive Challenges that encourage daily activity by virtually exploring scenic and iconic destinations.  Users can virtually explore a location, starting with three routes in Yosemite National Park, unlocking new landmarks as they take more steps.  The scenes are panoramic, which allows the user to “look around” by moving their phone.


Category: Engagement

Employers should build their corporate wellness programs around the consumer wellness technology market, and Fitbit’s new Fitbit Local program is just another reason why.  In addition to producing quality hardware and software, Fitbit launches value-added programs and services to improve engagement in its programs.  For example, Fitbit acquired FitStar to go beyond data tracking and into behavior change and outcomes.

Fitbit Local has the same spirit in mind.  According the Fitbit Local website, the program helps Fitbit users “find [their] fit and stay motivated to reach [their] goals by sweating it out at local workouts led by the most talented trainers in [their] community.”  Essentially, Fitbit is trying to strengthen engagement and their brand through community building and offering free fitness classes.  In Wellable’s home city, Boston, Fitbit has local ambassadors lead free boot camps, 5K walks, and more.  One event in Boston had over 600 people!  Fitbit Local is live in 8 cities in the United States with more coming online every month.  By going beyond technology and launching physical events, Fitbit is trying to build a culture of health in communities across the world.  As employers try to build cultures of health within their organizations, they would be wise to leverage the efforts of consumer-oriented companies trying to do the same thing in their community.

Consumer Wellness Strategy
All this is good news for consumers and organizers of employer and community wellness programs.  Like consumers, organized wellness programs will be the beneficiaries of activity trackers looking to go beyond data collection.  The best way for wellness programs to capture this value is to leverage the consumer wellness market in their programming.  That is, by allowing wellness program participants to utilize one of the many consumer wellness technologies that are working hard to produce meaningful engagement tools and outcomes, wellness coordinators will be able to deliver better results, improve adherence, and lower costs.