With a little help from the fitness device on her wrist a young woman leverages her lunch hour to enjoy the fresh air and run off some calories in a local park; elsewhere, another office staffer works up a sweat on a stationary bike in her bedroom before work; meanwhile the quiet corner of an office allows someone else to energize with an afternoon yoga class.
These employees are part of a growing population gaining access to tech-enabled health and fitness regimes.
According to the Global Wellness Institute, there are now an estimated 250,000-300,000 fitness and health or wellness apps available for download. Asia Pacific, which is the world’s largest consumer market for fitness trackers and wearable devices, is the world’s largest market for this tech, closely followed by the US.
Business use of those services is growing exponentially, as is the health tech built specifically for the corporate market.
Today there are a whole host of platforms and apps that promise to help people move more, sleep better, eat healthier, reduce stress, and be all round happier.
They include HealthifyMe, India’s and South East Asia’s largest weight loss and fitness app; Hotseat, an app from US firm Mad*Pow that turns two-minute chunks of time into micro-exercise breaks; and Canadian headquartered Sprout At Work, a full-service corporate wellness platform that works to identify, motivate and reward healthy behaviors.
Health and fitness a key player in HR tech
The appetite for low faff connected fitness is global and growing. Stacey Harris, author of ‘Introduction to HR Technologies’, has observed a continuous uptake of tech in the wellness industry over the last five years.
“As these have grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry, they have shifted from traditional exercise programs and health assessments into what you see today with very tailored and personalized tools that provide a lot of choice and a lot of engagement.”
There are common themes within the value propositions of this tech, much of them revolving around the opportunity to nurture, engage and involve a more physically and mentally fit workforce.
Ultimately, healthier workers are more productive – this is a no brainer. Peloton, one fitness brand that entered the corporate sphere earlier this year, counts global businesses such as Accenture Interactive, Samsung and SAP as clients.
“Well-designed employee wellness programs are significant drivers for fostering engagement, teamwork and inspiration,” enthuses Dan Healey, head of HR for SAP North America.
“Connected technology can be one of many effective tools for supporting employee wellness programs and will only grow in prominence as companies like Peloton continue bringing new, fun ways to connect workforces.”
Workplace wellness is not a new concept. Johnson & Johnson, for example, launched its Live for Life program in the 1970s to improve the health and exercise habits of employees.
And, the world’s largest hotel chain continues to follow the advice of its astute founder J.W Marriott: “Take care of your associates, and they’ll take care of your customers”.
After debuting the comprehensive wellbeing initiative TakeCare in 2010, Marriott recently launched a custom app, TakeCare Level30, which uses gamification to build positive behaviors into staff’s daily routine.
“We truly believe the foundation for our success depends on our associates’ wellbeing,” says Francisca Martinez, chief human resources officer for EMEA.
Workplace wellbeing AI
Workplace wellbeing is now an established strategy which is leveraged by HR leaders looking to engage and motivate staff alongside mitigating the costs of stress and burnout.
A Harvard study in 2010 found that for every dollar spent on employee wellness, medical costs fall by over three dollars. Numerous studies since have helped define the connection between wellness and productivity.
Whether it is nurturing fitness or number crunching beneficial outcomes that is top of mind, there is a diverse range of tech available.
At the simpler end of the scale are content-rich apps such as Aaptiv, which provide a slew of choices; in Aaptiv’s case a library of thousands of energizing audio workouts including barre, cycling and strength training.
At the more sophisticated end, are corporate wellness platforms connected to employee assistance programs and wider healthcare offerings.
Virgin Pulse is one such platform which leverages an AI-enabled recommendation engine to analyze 12 billion data points each month. In this way, it offers next-best-actions for the individual to improve their own wellbeing and health outcomes.
This high degree of personalization is a pivotal trend for health and fitness apps going forward.
Savvy app developers will keep the human touch top of mind too. For millions of people across the globe, the STRAVA app, with its careful blend social media and fitness tracking, offers a winning balance of competition and community.
In the UK auto manufacturer Stellantis hosts an invite-only running group on the app. Participants share details of their activity and give each other “kudos”, a virtual form of thumbs up.
The in-built peer support aligns with Stellantis’ wider mental health goals.
“Health apps within a business can be a real force for good,” comments Kristian Cholmondeley, head of communications for DS Automobiles, part of the Stellantis group.
“An app like STRAVA enables businesses like ours to connect communities of people in ways that are more human.”
Building that positive workplace culture is arguably more important now than ever.
“We’ve been witnessing a revolution in employee expectations — it started with the millennials and is gaining momentum in the post-pandemic workplace,” comments Lorna Borenstein, founder of Grokker, a subscription-based website and app providing wellbeing content to enterprise customers including ebay, Pinterest and Discovery Channel.
“Employees want to be treated and valued as whole people who crave purpose, belonging, and balance in their work and personal lives.
“And, importantly, they want and need their employers to partner with them to create not only good work, but good lives.”
There is a well-defined connection between healthy employees and productivity, but HR should not be dazzled by the tech argues Michaela Edwards, senior lecturer in human resource management and organizational behavior at the UK’s Nottingham Business School.
“Health and fitness apps form a small part of a wider trend towards an individualistic focus on wellbeing -though they can be useful for individuals they concern me because they point towards a culture that blames individuals for perceived ‘un-wellness’,” she says.
Michaela Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour
“They can encourage people to take time out of the day to maintain mental and physical wellness but only when organizations recognize that they are equally responsible for creating a culture that welcomes and supports all employees.”
Reservations around the acceleration of digital wellbeing notwithstanding, it is clear that health and fitness apps have bedded in. Stay tuned and keep on track.