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Pros and cons of using fitness trackers for employee wellness

James A. Martin | March 25, 2014
In February, during one of New England's harshest winters in memory, some employees at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, began deliberately parking further away from their offices.

Thirty-five percent of the college's 700 employees are currently participating in an eight-week team competition (called "Ready, Set, Go") to encourage increased physical activity and weight loss, according to Milliken. Participants receive stickers for 10-cents-per-ounce salad discounts all year at the employee snack bar. Winning team members receive gold-star stickers that get them 50 percent off the price of salads.

"There's been a real buzz about Fitbit and the competition," Milliken says. "It's getting groups of people moving, despite the harsh winter temperatures and storms."

Bates College offered Fitbit Zip devices to employees as an incentive for participating. "When we issued them initially, we were upfront about the fact it wasn't simply a gift for signing up," he adds. "They needed to earn it by using it, and that seems to be driving engagement."


Global cloud-consultancy firm Appirio kicked off its CloudFit program in early 2013. To date, 250 of its 900 employees received wristbands to track their activities, and more than 300 CloudFit participants regularly share workout tips and training schedules via Salesforce Chatter, according to Shannon Daly, Appirio vice president of human resources.

Employees also crowdsourced and distributed a cookbook of healthful recipes. Some Appirio team members are doing marathons and strenuous "Tough Mudders," or muddy obstacle races. As a result, "Appirio has a more tight-knit and connected company culture," Daly says.

In addition, Appirio's healthcare plan provider contributed $20,000 to its CloudFit program, which helps fund the program. The contribution also enabled Appirio to hire a corporate wellness program administrator that provides a virtual training/coaching program for all participants. New health and wellness challenges are posted weekly to the CloudFit Chatter group.

Vista Staffing Solutions

VISTA Staffing Solutions employees shed nearly 800 pounds in the Retrofit online weight-loss program, which began in January 2013, according to a Retrofit spokesperson. Employees use Fitbit trackers and Wi-Fi-enabled bathroom scales. On average, participants lost 12.8 pounds.

VISTA estimates that the exercise and fitness program decreased absenteeism, resulted in a healthier and happier workplace, and is saving the company about $38,035 annually due to decreased medical expenses and increased productivity. VISTA has approximately 200 employees, and 61 staffers participate in the Retrofit program.

Retrofit "saved my life," says VISTA Staffing Solutions Recruiting Manager Michelle Howa. "I gained 55 pounds over the past few years, and while I tried to lose it, I never had success."

Howa says the program gave her access to a behavior coach, a registered dietitian and an exercise physiologist. She says she lost 47 pounds in nine months and incorporated healthier exercise and eating habits into her daily routine.

Killer Infographics

Killer Infographics implemented an employee fitness program based on the P90X workout in September 2013. Participants went to conference rooms to exercise to a P90X video, says Charlie Holbert, digital marketing director. But momentum soon dissipated because "it forced people out of their daily routines and didn't hold anyone accountable."


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