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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Keeping tabs on your work wellbeing still has a way to go

While fitness trackers is a booming market, corporate programmes need more finesse

In the challenging quest for work/life balance, every step counts. Richard Drew / AP
In the challenging quest for work/life balance, every step counts. Richard Drew / AP

More than 100 million wearable fitness-tracking devices were shipped worldwide last year - and wearables are going way beyond steps and sleep today, to measure heart rates, stress levels and even posture - yet corporate programmes tend to stick to measuring employees’ steps.

Trackers are becoming big business. The seed fund Rock Health estimates that 102 million wearable devices were shipped worldwide last year.

The technology analysts Juniper Research predicts that at least 13 million devices will be integrated into wellness programmes by 2018, while Gartner suggests that 70 per cent of multinational corporations will sponsor the use of fitness-tracking devices this year.

But it would seem the experimentation, beyond standard trackers such as the Fitbit, Garmin and Samsung Gear, is left to the consumer market, while businesses rely on measuring steps taken to encourage a more active lifestyle.

Data has to be “really credible” before an employer can be assured it will work for their staff, says Jaya Maru, the co-founder of the corporate wellness and rewards platform Rewardz, formerly known as Flabuless. Because of that, it is left to the consumer market to validate new devices and measurements, she says.

It is “early days” for the corporate wellbeing tracker market, she adds, and “employers have to be very careful”.

“It is incomplete to measure wellbeing without elements like sleep, stress and nutrition; however, at an enterprise level, the technology is still not there to make this ... tracking at a reasonably fair level, where you are confident it will not create a backlash among employees,” Ms Maru adds.

“The closest we have seen is assigning a consolidated, more holistic wellbeing score, based on a combination of movement tracked, sleep logs, nutritional information and stress-related questionnaires. Communicating particular data points like stress or posture could be very debatable.”

Zara Martirosyan, the Dubai-based founder and chief executive of the inKin social fitness platform, says that simple corporate wellness challenges “do work”. Based on data from more than 100 programmes run on inKin, the average increase in daily steps has soared by 30 per cent, she says, and the number of employees hitting the recommended 10,000 daily steps target has jumped from 12 per cent to 41 per cent.

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InKin planns to add mood logging to the 20 metrics such as blood pressure, sugar intake and weight that can be tracked via staff’s fitness devices and aggregated on the platform, she says.

One client, an international energy company, specifically asked for staff’s sleep patterns to be monitored after an incident where a sleep-deprived employee fell asleep at the wheel and died in a car accident. Ms Maru says Rewardz also sees “a lot of interest” from clients to measure sleep.

But she says any tracking needs to be automatic. “If you have to log, people will do it for a week or two then lose interest. This is why it is impossible to track how healthily employees are eating - tracking nutrition is still manual. Even the best apps are populated with 10,000 different kinds of food and calculate portion sizes and calories. They are not at the level where you can scan food and it will tell you how many calories it has.”

The management consultancy PwC ran a survey of UK workers in 2014 and reported that 65 per cent did want their employer to use technology to take an active role in their health and wellbeing. Half claimed they would wear a smartwatch in the workplace to help their wellbeing - but almost four out of 10 said they did not trust their employer not to use the data against them in some way.

“The big question to address is how to deal with data privacy,” says Ms Maru. “It has to be aggregate, not individual, data. One person said it was against their personal values, that their movements should not be tracked by their organisation.”

Some of the newest tracking gadgets on the market include:

For posture: Upright and Lumo Lift posture trainer devices. The Lumo Lift (Dh295) is worn close to the collarbone, using magnets, while the Upright (Go Dh394) is stuck o nto your back. Both brands vibrate when you slouch and track posture and activity.

For breathing: Clip-on pebble Spire Stone (Dh477) measures your calm or focus to help you be more mindful. When your breathing indicates tension, a gentle notification reminds you to stop and take a deep breath.

For calories: Most health apps offer manual logging of calories but one company has had a bash at automatically measuring calorie intake. The HealBe GoBe (Dh1,007) claims to analyse the body’s glucose concentrations by measuring the fluid volumes of your cells.

For stress and mood: The Airo HRV tracker (Dh735) claims to track your nervous system live and to gently vibrates on your wrist when you are stressed, while the Moodmetric ring (Dh807) measures galvanic skin response or electrodermal activity (the amount of sweat on the skin) to track the wearer’s emotional state. Vinaya’s Zenta was planned to measure heart rate, perspiration, respiration and temperature to indicate stress levels. It has been discontinued for the consumer market but was pitched to the Dubai Health Authority, according to the business’ then head of product. Samsung’s S Help app measures variations in the time between each heartbeat when you touch your finger to the phone’s sensor and compares it to healthy levels within your age group to give a “rough measurement” of your stress level.