Experts Say Corporations Like Target Are Doing Wearable Challenges All Wrong

by Oct 9, 2015

Jennifer Elias | Forbes In September, Target started a corporate wellness campaign by giving Fitbits to all of its 330,000 employees but wellness experts say companies like Target are missing the mark. Sonic Boom co-founder Danna Korn, who has run successful wellness campaigns reducing healthcare costs for companies like Toshiba , says giving all employees Fitbits with no personalization is “basically like handing someone a pair of running shoes and say okay, now here take up running and stick with it every single day for the rest of your life. Target’s system will clearly motivate the already healthy employees, but is completely irrelevant to the less-engaged employees who are not encouraged emotionally, mentally or socially.” She says by handing out devices such as Fitbits, companies like Target are assuming every employee is intrinsically motivated and wants to look at their stats every day. “But, that’s going to get really old for people who are not intrinsically motivated. They might do it for a month or two but it’s likely to get stuffed in an underwear drawer after the first few months.” Dr. Mitesh Patel, a University of Pennsylvania associate professor who has researched activity trackers told CNBC, “I do think there’s often a misconception that simply giving somebody a wearable device is going to make them more active, more healthy.” Though the intentions are noble, the execution is lazy, Korn says. “They have no idea how to execute and they’re getting caught up in the hype of Fitbit and other wearables that have such great PR engines that they’re saying, ‘it must be the answer’. But what they’re not thinking about is Fitbit is only a good solution for people who are intrinsically motivated.” She says companies like Target are making the mistake of treating corporate wellness like consumer wellness. “With corporate wellness, you’re often dealing with a lot of people who haven’t seen the inside of a gym for many years, if ever, and people who are not motivated,” she says. “Companies tell me ‘well I hear a lot about Fitbit and the people on the ads for Fitbit look really good’ so it must work. But that’s just not the right approach especially when it comes to corporate wellness.” Another problem, she says, is that Target’s plan ignored everything but physical activity. “That’s important, but what about nutrition, sleep, financial wellness and stress-reduction? All these other really important things they’ve ignored. Wellness is a lot bigger than physical activity.” For employees who don’t speak English as their first language or are considered low-income, the program is even less effective, Korn says. “Most people are offloading their Fitbits to a smartphone and you’re going to have a significant portion of the population who can’t afford the type of smartphone with BLE, which is needed to offload,” she says. “So you have a significant percentage that’s not going to get to play.” Most big companies are self-insured so the risk of not getting people healthier is that their healthcare costs will go up 20-25% a year which can be catastrophic, she says. “Corporate wellness can be extremely effective but if it’s a poorly-planned program, then, no, they’re not going to see any bend in that trend and they’re just going to continue to throw money at a program that’s ineffective.”

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