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April 24, 2017
How To

How to: Count steps and create a healthier, happier workplace

Andrew Silsby

Keeping track of exercise and activity levels using fitness trackers has become immensely popular over the last few years. Harnessing this popularity in the workplace has benefits that reach far beyond physical fitness.

Employees become healthier, are more productive and work better as a team. Businesses see a reduction in employee sick leave and, over time, overall health care costs are reduced. Nationwide, employers are expected to incorporate more than 13 million fitness tracking devices into their wellness programs by 2018, according to technology consultancy Endeavor Partners.

In February 2016, Kennebec Savings Bank kicked off a Fitbit wellness program, encouraging employees to increase their level of physical activity by tracking the number of steps they took each day. The program was a resounding success. It began with 75 out of 120 employees taking about 12 million cumulative steps per month. Within nine months, the program had grown to more than 18 million steps per month. In October of last year, the bank received Harvard Pilgrim Health Care's "Health Innovator Award" in recognition of the achievements of this program and other related healthy-living initiatives.

The great thing about fitness tracker programs is that they can work for any type of organization. You just have to follow these six simple steps to success:

  • Upper management has to be committed and involved. It's a great inspiration and motivation to employees when they see their CEO's name in the top 10 of the leaderboard or see that their supervisor has already put in more than 5,000 steps before the start of the workday.

  • Employees have to have some skin in the game. If they have to put forth some investment to participate, they will be more likely to stick with the program for the long term. Our employees purchase the Fitbit model of their choosing and receive a reimbursement of $50.

  • Offer loaner fitness trackers to win over any skeptics in the group. It's proven to be a great recruitment tool for the program.

  • Set the stage for friendly competition. Fitbit offers users the option of forming private online communities on its website. Create a community for your company, and encourage all participating employees to join. They can see how many steps each member has taken, cheer each other on and set new goals to up the ante.

  • Provide incentives and rewards. We initially used employees' collective step totals to challenge improvement. When the collective total of steps increased from 1 million to 1.5 million in one month, all participants received rewards. Over the course of the program, rewards have ranged from branded sweatshirts to water bottles to community gift cards.

  • Promote and acknowledge employee progress on a continuous basis. Employee, team and individual recognitions on social media, in internal communications like an e-newsletter, and at staff meetings are great motivators.

Our Fitbit wellness program has empowered employees to make positive lifestyle changes. Walking groups form every day at lunchtime, and one of our managers now holds "walking" staff meetings on a nearby rail trail. It is a well-known fact that you can pick up 103 extra steps by walking around the table in our break room while waiting for your coffee to brew.

Using the Fitbits has gotten our team out of the mindset that exercise is a chore. We now look forward to being active together and are always looking for new opportunities to do so. In addition to boosting employee health and driving health care costs down, it has been excellent for the team dynamic. We enjoy a more engaged, energized work atmosphere.

When it comes to fitness tracker-focused employee wellness programs, the investment is minimal yet the payoff can be very high.

The virtual nature of the Fitbit online communities makes the program ideal for organizations with team members who are based at different locations.

Andrew Silsby is president and CEO of Kennebec Savings Bank.

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