Wearable and Wellness Go Together June 23, 2015 10:54

"It's part of our overall culture," he added. "For workers, this is about your health, helping you be the best person you can be. It's not about the company wanting to know your personal data."

Iron Mountain is one example of a massive U.S. trend toward workplace wellness programs that increasingly rely on using fitness data from wearables worn by workers.

One-half to two-thirds of U.S. employers with 15 or more workers have instituted some type of wellness program, according to recent statistics from the U.S Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). That translates into 586,000 companies.

Meanwhile, fully half of fitness band sales in the U.S. are to companies that pass the devices along to employees, sometimes at no charge, for fitness-related activities, according to Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder.

The bottom line for Iron Mountain: The LiveWell program has helped boost employee wellness, reduced doctor visits and lowered the company's health care costs for the first time since 2013, Kirshner said. In other words, the portion that workers are contributing for health care insurance and investments by the company's internally managed fund have left the fund net-positive for the past two years; by comparison, the company's costs were rising 10% a year for the decade before 2013.

"We have achieved these results because wellness is just one component of a total health strategy," Kirshner wrote recently in a public comment on a controversial proposed rule by the EEOC that would affect employer wellness programs. Iron Mountain's results, he added, came "without significant cost-shifting to employees."

Carrot, not stick

Rewards work well for motivating workers to better fitness, Kirshner said. For example, for drinking 32 ounces of water a day for four out of seven days, a worker gets 20 points. For walking 2 million steps in a year (about 5,500 steps a day), a worker gets 100 points. When a worker reaches 1,000 points, Iron Mountain offers some assistance on a life insurance plan. At 2,000 points, there's a cash payout of $200, and for 3,000 points, the payout reaches $400.

While 100 points for 2 million steps might sound cheap, there's plenty of worker interest. Each year, about 1,200 workers reach 3,000 or more points, Kirshner said. One woman who reached the 2 million step threshold reported she is "never off her feet," Kirshner said. She walks around her job site instead of relying on a golf cart and corrals two children at home.

Low levels of concern over data privacy

During the two years of LiveWell, only one employee has raised questions about how the devices are used by Iron Mountain, he said.

"Up-front, we have been clear we will never see individual data results and people will not be judged based on how many steps they are taking or exercising," he said. "It's all about making you as healthy and productive as you can be. It's rewards-based, not a punitive approach."