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New nudges could kickstart employee wellness programs

Those 8-to-5 jobs can cause a lot of health problems, especially when employees sit in front of computer monitors a lot. The health problem menu can include hypertension, obesity, diabetes, cancer and a host of other problems. Humans are meant to move around, not stare at a screen.

To help employees move around, standard wellness programs help employees achieve weight management, aerobics and health monitoring. But new methods have emerged to get employees moving.

Among the newest is Pokemon Go. Victims of this app walk to useless places to get their Pokemon. Employers can motivate employees to find many Pokemon over a week on their own time. The winner can receive a gift certificate or another reward.

A voluntary Pokemon contest could increase cardiac health, because it encourages plenty of walking or running. Companies should dare not make any of this mandatory, or they might be sued for having an employee get into an accident while playing the game.

FitBit and S Health are among many devices and apps that help companies count the number of steps their employees take during the day. On my S Health app, I can analyze my running, walking and cycling time, stress level and heart rate. Such individualized attention to an employee’s conditions can lead to better productivity and health. Using these should be voluntary, too, to reduce legal liability.

An HR department could set up a voluntary program to automatically measure how much water an employee drinks from an internet-connected cup. The cup can tell whether the employee drinks water, tea, coffee or some alcoholic beverage.

An employee’s seat can warn the employee that he or she has been sitting on it too long. That seat also can warn the employee that his or her back is slumping. Even a computer mouse can “say” to an employee that he or she has been using it too much and “order” the worker to switch hands to reduce joint pain.

The employee’s laptop can detect his or her mood through facial patterns. A company might obtain all of this data to analyze the employee’s health and productivity.

Privacy issues may block some of these ideas, but new methods of helping employees stay healthy are worth considering.

Gundars Kaupins is a professor of management in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University. gkaupins@boisestate.edu. This column appears in the Oct. 19-Nov. 15, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on the business of health. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).

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