Winter Issue of 2017

Self-Tracking at Work – A HEALTHY Idea?

Introducing wearable devices can potentially be a game changer in creating happy, healthy and engaged employees. However, good intentions can go bad.

PhD Candidate Kateryna Maltseva and Dr. Christian Fieseler, Professor - BI Norwegian Business School

Enlisting employees as brand ambassadors is recognizably critical to an organization’s success. It is employees who have primary contact with customers and key stakeholders, and it is important those contacts are positive.

A study by global PR firm Weber Shandwick found that 50 percent of employees share their opinions on their company without any prompting.

One way to create happy, healthy and engaged employees has been through the use of corporate wellness programs (CWP) that include wearable technology such as Fitbit for tracking performance. Employees who participate in corporate wellness programs that encourage them to do more sports or to be more mindful feel more energetic and happier. Organizations also benefit as employees’ participation in such corporate wellness programs result in higher productivity, stronger corporate citizenship, and fewer costs associated with healthcare expenses. 


However, as an old saying warns us - “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Organizations increasingly long to build healthier, more mindful, and more productive teams, and employ wearable technologies (e.g., Fitbit) and self-tracking applications (e.g., Endomondo, Runtastic) to this end. But if not implemented well, these so-called corporate wellness programs may create additional pressure on employees.

Organizations tend to design corporate wellness programs around wearable devices and wearable technologies. For example, British Petroleum has a comprehensive wellness pro- gram that encourages employees to register their step count, earn points, and use them to win different rewards such as medical premiums and gift cards.

The notion of implementing wearables and self-tracking applications in an organization is quite new. We have only begun to collect evidence of the effectiveness of wearables-driven CWPs. Findings suggest optimism and caution at the same time.


Some positive effects associated with using wearables in CWPs are:

  • Increased physical activity among employees. People who track their daily step count do indeed walk more and invest more time in fitness.
  • Improved subjective well-being of employees. Employees participating in CWPs feel better emotionally and physically and attribute this to the effects of participating in a CWP.
  • Stronger organizational community. Employees tend to discuss their participation experience with other colleagues, creating a buzz around a CWP.


However, there are certain concerns that employees may express when asked to join a CWP. Among these concerns are:

  • Mixing private and public. People generally do not like to mix personal and business matters. Some studies even show poor work-life balance is detrimental to well-being.
  • Giving your boss too much power. Employees may feel uncomfortable if they have to give consent to sharing their data with a management team that is responsible for a CWP.
  • Taking fun out of sport. A recent study concluded that tracking an activity takes the fun out of it. When people track walking they enjoy it less, because walking feels like work, rather than a leisure activity.
  • Feeling pressured by norms. CWPs set certain norms for employees. For example, wellness can be understood through 10 000 steps or a certain number of work-out sessions weekly. Employees’ individual under- standing of what wellness is may differ. Some prefer to walk less, but compensate with spinning, others prefer running to any other type of work-outs. By introducing normative standards for wellness there is always a risk that they may not be accepted by employees and a CWP will fail.
  • Feeing discouraged by standards. Employees differ in their ability to engage in sports: chronic health conditions or fear of performance pressure may prevent people from joining a CWP. 


If you decide to introduce self-tracking mobile applications or wearable devices into your CWP, here are some recommendations that can help you do it effectively.

  1.  Make sure your team is ready to join a CWP built around wearables and self-tracking applications. Millennials are the group that is often most open to technological interventions and innovations. They are more flexible with data collection and sharing both at work and during their “me-time”. Other socio-demographic groups can be more reluctant. Ask your prospective participants in advance about whether using Fitbit or a tracking app is something they would consider.
  2. Follow-up with participants and non-participants. Talk to your employees and learn why your CWP is a success or not. Send an anonymous questionnaire or raise some questions during a weekly meeting. Use that feedback to improve the conditions and standards of your CWP.
  3. Create inclusive conditions. Designing an inclusive program is paramount to a CWP’s success. Set various objectives and standards for tracking: steps, sleep patterns, heartbeat, etc. Offering various tracking options and standards reduces the risk of a CWP being unpopular among employees. And if your reward system works, focus more on participation than on performance.

Introducing wearable devices or mobile applications into a CWP can potentially be a game changer in fighting absenteeism or facilitating brand ambassadorship among employees. In order to utilize the potential of self-tracking technologies in CWP make sure that you are inclusive and respectful in your CWP design.