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Wearable fitness devices can boost employee morale, but at what cost?

HR departments doling out wearable fitness devices can boost employee morale, but what are the implications if companies can track employee movement?

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With the popularity of wearable devices on the rise, perhaps the most common current use in large companies is...

HR departments handing out wearable fitness devices like the FitBit, Jawbone UP or high-tech pedometers to promote physical activity, offering rewards ranging from bragging rights to health insurance discounts and free memberships to athletic clubs.

SearchCIO wanted to know how #CIOChat participants feel about this use of wearable fitness devices in the enterprise, and whether it is important to experiment with existing devices in order to test policies and learn about privacy concerns before they build their own, company-specific wearables, and what privacy concerns might hold them back. We asked our Twitter followers, "Can enterprise organizations leverage existing wearables (i.e., FitBit) to boost employee morale or gamification?"

According to tweet jam participants, a little competition never hurt nobody:

Bragging rights and small prizes are -- in most cases -- enough to boost workplace morale and even promote better communication among employees. Our #CIOChat-ters weighed in on the power of wearables and offering incentives:

Like smartphones and tablets, newfangled wearable devices open up organizations to big data and security challenges. Some #CIOChat participants felt wearable use in the enterprise could indeed increase workplace positivity but had concerns when it came to legality and policy setting:

More #CIOChat recaps

Wearable devices: All about the data

What's the CIO to do with wearables?

New technology always comes with a certain amount of resistance and uncertainty. If an employee receives a company-issued wearable device to track fitness goals, where should IT draw the line between analyzing this personal data for gamification purposes and using it to make judgments on employee activities (or lack thereof) outside of the office as it might relate to their workplace productivity? Organizations will walk a fine line:

Things could get a little crazy and Big Brother-y around here:

If employees are worried that company executives will frown on inactivity, all they'd have to do is shake that pedometer in their hand for a few minutes each night -- who's going to know? Enterprises looking to reward wearable device users, beware: Not every employee will be psyched about imposed incentive programs:

For more #CIOChat recaps or to learn about our next chat, follow @SearchCIO on Twitter. We would like to thank this month's tweet jam expert Simon Jones, managing director at OnPR, a technology public relations and analyst firm, and a blogger at WearableTechWatch, for joining us and responding to participants' tweets. 

This was last published in February 2014

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Should enterprises leverage existing wearables such as FitBit to boost employee morale or encourage gamification?
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Seems like just another gimmick to sell hardware and software services. Changing behaviors starts at the top ... having a fit leader who engages with employees, promotes a healthy lifestyle and has a positive affirming attitude will cause greater positive change than all the gimmicks.
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I agree!
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Totally agree with djrryan - if you need devices to get employees motivated, you're probably not doing a very good job motivating them yourself. These kinds of things feel like short-term fixes that will get people interested, but the follow-through likely won't be very strong. (Not to mention there is bound to be some grumbling about employee monitoring.)
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Two friends (both of whom work in university health settings) were recently given pedometers and told to maximize their steps during a certain time period. Competing with other departments definitely motivated them in the short term to get outside and walk when they might otherwise have driven, and I think those habits stick: Once you realize that half-hour walk downtown isn't so far, you're more likely to walk it again.
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@Rachel - hope that "certain time period" was summer. That would be a brutal experiment during this winter!
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