Relying on Affordable Wearable Metrics for Wellness Programs Hurts Your ROI

A sick, non-energetic workforce can’t produce. Despite decades of work showing financial and workplace benefits of having rested employees, professional burnout has “reached epidemic proportions” according to Charlie DeWitt, VP of business development at Kronos. Kronos and Future Workplace recently surveyed 614 U.S. human resources professionals at organizations with 100 to over 2,500 employees and found that 95% of respondents admit employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention, while sapping productivity and fueling absenteeism, yet they did not uncover any obvious solutions. Many organizations have turned to corporate wellness programs but are realizing a low ROI on these investments. A research study by RAND found the ROI of a lifestyle management program to be just $1.50 for every $1 invested. When wellness programs fail to correctly measure mental ability, sleep and activity data do not provide any context into a person’s actual energy level.

Below are the top 5 problems with relying on wearables metrics for employee wellness program.

1. Sleep Tracking Isn’t Reliable

More affordable fitness wearables aren’t focused specifically for sleep. As a result, these devices rely on lack of movement or user estimates of their own sleep to provide feedback. From these data you most likely will not get any indication of REM sleep, the deep sleep that is critical for revitalization.

2. Subjective Sleep Reporting Is Highly Inaccurate

Our research has shown that people are off on their estimates of sleep by as much as 2-3 hours. People also typically wake-up during the night. It is thus nearly impossible for an individual to determine time spent sleeping versus time spent awake.

3. Different Wearables Measure Sleep and Activity Differently

Depending on the hardware and its capabilities, every wearable device computes sleep in its own way. These computations typically draw from heart rate sensors and an accelerometer coupled with a device-unique algorithm to compute sleep. Inconsistencies across devices become an even greater issue for companies with a BYOD wellness program. How would you attempt to mitigate or prioritize in an enterprise setting that has to deal with such discrepancies between devices?

4. Lack of a Cognitive Component

Objective measures of both the emotional and cognitive components of burnout are necessary tools to prevent burnout and its detrimental consequences. From the latter perspective, burnout affects actual brain anatomy and cognitive functioning — imposing wear and tear on brain structures and disrupting problem solving, creativity, and working memory. Yet there are almost no solutions on the market that incorporate cognition evaluation. Using our cognitive evaluation tool and working with the TSA, we demonstrated that while fitness trackers indicated TSA agents were getting a proper amount of rest, their mental abilities declined throughout the day, which was negatively affecting job performance. Could burnout be contributing to TSA’s threat detection shortcomings?

5. Lack of Context When Relying Solely on Metrics

Typical fitness trackers can’t relate their information to the contextual variables of work. Yet, on the burnout-to-engagement continuum, there are three interrelated dimensions: exhaustion–energy (stress dimension), inefficacy–efficacy (productivity dimension), and cynicism–involvement (interpersonal context dimension). When compromised, the cynicism (or depersonalization) component reveals itself as a negative, callous, or excessively detached response within the social context of the workplace and is the aspect of burnout most predictive of turnover; yet currently wearable devices do not provide insight on this contextual dimension of burnout.

Employer wellness programs can fall short in offering a solid ROI to your company; often because the wearable devices used are collecting and analyzing the wrong data. Getting actionable information from a wearable device is very difficult, but critical if wellness programs are to be successful. Given actionable information within the context of each individual job will allow employees and employers to realize the full potential of wearable devices in battling the burnout epidemic.