The Right Way to Introduce Wearable Technology for Results

Wearables it's all about the feedback
Wearables it’s all about the feedback

The Financial Times article Technology wearables are in workplace health vogue might have you thinking wearables are a good fit in your organisation, before you get too excited about it know there is a right way and a wrong way to introduce wearables. The right way includes

1. A supportive culture,
2. A healthy attitude to competition,
3. A high standard of trust,
4. Incentives,
5. A motivated and engaged workforce
6. Work/life balance.

It may strike you that these factors should be self-evident, however at a time when siloed companies still exist, fragmented workforces present real obstacles. If sharing information across silos isn’t hard enough, sharing sweat and vulnerability is another thing entirely.
I would contend that introducing Wearables to a small or medium sized company is easier to do than introducing it to a large or multinational company. First-hand experience tells me this much. Cost considerations notwithstanding, other factors are more important to introducing wearables.

A SUPPORTIVE CULTURE

A supportive culture backed by an organisations leadership at least 2-3 levels deep (at department level depending on company structure) is vital. The hard sell is usually at the cost to implement level, pitting Finance against Human Resources, beyond that those who need to oversee the implementation and the day to monitoring have to be fully engaged. I could name one large corporation saying all the right things with no cohesive strategy to reach the grassroots level of its employees. The top-down approach this company uses lacks the conviction to sway the masses to participate, instead the effort is met with cynicism. Trying to import a healthy culture when it is at odds with the current practices of an organisation is futile. If there ever was a time to flex leadership qualities in achieving a goal that is impactful for work and personal benefit this would be it.

A HEALTHY ATTITUDE TO COMPETITION

The human trait to compete is hard to suppress and is useful motivation for some, others balk at the highly competitive nature of the world today and are immediately turned off. In order to raise the participation rate in any program implemented, the motivation to compete has to be sold differently to different demographics in the workplace. Approaches to the young and tech savvy should differ from those offered to the more advanced in years and less tech able and may again differ from those offered to shift workers in the ranks. The key to pitching this correctly is knowledge of individual motivations that go beyond information captured in an annual appraisal. If a supportive culture and community is in place in the work space this should be easier to effect.

A HIGH STANDARD OF TRUST

Access to credible and usable information is predicated on the amount of trust within an organisation and from individual to individual. No trust no free flow of information, no understanding of how to create healthy competition through understanding individual motivations.

INCENTIVES

Incentives, whether financial or motivational have a part to play in making wearables in the workplace a success after all the goal is not to get the wearable on the wrist but a positive feeling that translates to health and productivity. In case there is any confusion about the link between motivation health and productivity the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers a shift in the old paradigm.  The old paradigm says Performance, Health and Happiness mutually influence each other. The new paradigm says Health and Happiness influence each other mutually, while Performance is only a beneficiary of Health and Happiness’s relationship.

While there are limitations to how financial incentives can keep individuals motivated without creating a Pavlovian nightmare, happiness in the workforce can take many forms and should not be overlooked.

A MOTIVATED AND ENGAGED WORKFORCE

This is almost one of those which came first questions, the chicken or the egg? If you have a motivated workforce, why do you need wearable tech in the first place (and what are wearables going to give you that you don’t already have?) Well, a motivated workforce doesn’t necessarily stay motivated on its own and there are always insights and new challenges to meet, so knowing how and what makes a workforce tick is valuable. On the other hand, giving a bunch of wearables to a demotivated workforce is a plaster to a mortal wound. You might see their eyes light up initially but watch them glaze over when the novelty wears off. Motivation needs to be around individual and common goals (individual goals come first) because this is the smallest operational unit of the workforce, then come the common departmental goals. This might be seen odd but I have seen one instance where this has worked very well provided there is transparency and there is no inherent conflict between the individual and the company.

A motivated workforce gives you the buzz and participation you want to get a program like this off the ground, more than that it will give your program longevity. It is my suspicion that in the absence of encouraging participation numbers, organisations may well identify key workers whose health is critical to their function and have them be the guinea pigs for the organisation.

WORK/LIFE BALANCE

A great work/life balance is supportive of all the preceding steps and is a foundation of a forward-looking company introducing wearable tech.
Again it bears saying the smallest operational unit of the workforce is the individual, the more balanced they are the more they have to offer in pursuit of the organisation’s goals.

With these steps considered and in place now would be a great time to introduce wearable tech as an addition. To do it any other way would be back to front. Wearables are part of the solution, not the solution, it is only a piece of technology after all.

Here are some broad statistics from The Business Value of a Healthy Workforce – Towers Watson Report 2013 -2014 which make a great case for investing in a comprehensive range of tools (including wearables) for a healthy and productive workforce.

high-vs-low-effectiveness

high-vs-low-absence

 

[1] Technology wearables are in workplace health vogue. Financial Times, Special Report, Health at Work, 14th Sept 2016.

[1] The Future Evolution of Employee Wellness. American College of Sports Medicine. Glynn, J.

[1] The Business Value of a Healthy Workforce – Towers Watson Report 2013 -2014.