Many wellness companies push proprietary apps and devices (yes, some wellness companies have seen it fit to build their own pedometers!) as part of their comprehensive solution. This approach is profit centric, sends mixed messages, and adversely impacts engagement (real engagement). These solutions don’t work for a number of reasons.
All stakeholders will be better off if an employee takes ownership of their personal wellness, and part of that ownership entails the empowerment derived from choosing the means by which one gets healthy. Employees know their preferences and areas of greatest motivation better than their employer, which is why engagement improves with employee choice. Choice provides employees with the freedom and flexibility to choose the wellness technologies best suited for them, and these technologies are often the consumer apps and devices they are familiar with, such Fitbit and FatSecret. Unlike rigid, proprietary technologies that dictate a one size fits all approach, employee choice, through an array of wellness technology options, makes wellness a one size fits one solution.
Too many employees feel that employers do wellness to them rather than for them. This perspective is rooted in privacy concerns and the belief that companies only care about them as employees, not people. In regard to the latter, it is easy to see why this is the case when employers are investing in wellness solutions that can only improve a person’s health so long as they are an employee of their company. What type of message does that send? It tells employees that “we want you to be healthy and have access to your wellness data only if you are an employee and there is a financial benefit for us.” It doesn’t send the message that employee wellness is person centric and the company wants their employees to live happier and healthier lives regardless of their employment status. By building on an ecosystem of consumer technologies, employers change the messaging and lower the barriers of participation by allowing users to engage with the technologies they used in their wellness program in perpetuity. Proprietary pedometers and apps from a wellness vendor that expire after an employee leaves or after a company doesn’t renew its contract signal that health and wellness for the sake of the employee isn’t a priority, and employee engagement will reflect this sentiment.
This point will be controversial. Why do so many wellness companies seem so attached to proprietary technologies? The only reasonable conclusion is profit driven behavior. In regard to hardware, a vendor makes more money selling a subpar pedometer than reselling a leading consumer technology. In regard to software platforms, it often provides an opportunity to sell additional services, such health coaching, health risk assessments, and biometric screenings. There is no question that many of the services have value in certain situations, but it’s hard to dispute that there is more money to be made in providing coaching services rather than relying on the digital coaching provided in free mobile apps and consumer technologies.