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Your employer wants to know when you’re sleeping
Employees at Appirio in San Francisco may not see their Chicago-based CEO on a daily basis, but they know how he slept last night.
Appirio, a cloud services provider, bought 200 Jawbone Up wristbands for employees as part of a wellness program launched this year. The bands, which retail for $129.99, use motion sensors to track sleep patterns and activity. Employers see only anonymous data, and employees can choose to share (or not share) their personal information with co-workers via a Web interface.
Appirio is among a growing number of companies buying fitness monitors for employees in an effort to reduce health insurance costs. The company’s health insurer gave Appirio $20,000 to start a wellness program, says VP of human resources Shannon Daly.
“I want to get enough data to go back to our benefits carrier this summer and say, ‘Look how we’ve been making change and traction on health,’” she says. “If we can get our benefits to stay static or go lower, that’s money for [employees] in their pockets.”
Movable makes MOVband accelerometers ($29.99) primarily for corporate wellness programs and schools. “We’re working on trying to build out the ROI to see how we affect insurance costs,” says Dana DeSantis, Movable’s VP of marketing. “What we do know is that obesity is a major driver of insurance costs.” Medical expenses for obese employees are 42 percent higher than for a person with a healthy weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Fitbit makes wireless activity and sleep trackers used by “hundreds of companies,” says director of business development Amy McDonough. She says transparency is key to getting employees on board and active.
“It’s important for the employer to communicate why they’re doing this program and why it’s important to share their data,” she says. Companies can use the data to provide better wellness programs, encourage healthy habits that lead to fewer sick days, and ultimately, reduce health care costs and premiums.
Competition was an added benefit at the Chicago office of PPC Associates, an online marketing firm, where all 75 employees received a Fitbit clip-on monitor last year to track activity as part of a wellness challenge. In an effort to boost their scores, PPC employees defied the desk chair by conducting meetings while walking a few loops around the block or marching in place in conference rooms, said Laura Rodnitzky, the firm’s director of change management.
“There’s a pie chart that shows what percentage of the day you’re sedentary, lightly active or very active,” she said. “When [you] saw you’re sitting there for eight hours, it was really shocking.”
That healthy competition is another selling point, McDonough says. “Your water cooler conversation, instead of who was kicked off ‘The Bachelor’ last night: ‘Hey, you were at the top of the leaderboard yesterday, what did you do?’” she says. “We know of some companies that are displaying leaderboards on big screen TVs in their common areas.”
But all that sharing is too much for some.
Dan Ushman says he and some of his fellow Singlehop employees wear fitness bands and share stats among themselves, but the company doesn’t issue the devices or collect the information. The co-founder and CMO says he isn’t interested in putting a formal band program in place at the Web hosting company.
“Making something like that compulsory is a little bit intrusive,” Ushman says. “I just don’t see that being a good thing for morale, making everybody Big Brother.”
For a company like Appirio, though, health-monitoring programs can have a bonding effect. Most of the company’s nearly 700 employees work from home and don’t see each other regularly, so they are open to connecting with their co-workers, Daly says.
“I think that’s part of our culture,” she says. “Our culture isn’t designed to make you feel like we’re hounding you or policing you.”
ABOVE: Jawbone’s Up wristbands. Photo courtesy of Jawbone.