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Activity Trackers: Wearables in the Workplace [Audio Interview]

Kerwynn Prinzing
Dec 26, 2016 9:15:00 AM

Employee fitness tracker, wellness program.pngLet's flashback to the time our CEO at KadalystBenjamin Prinzing, joined Brandon Laws from Xenium to discuss the trends and challenges around wearable programs in the workplace—who’s doing it well, things to look out for, and how you can incorporate this technology to step up your own wellness program. If you'd prefer to listen in, follow the podcast link here.

If you are interested in joining the Worksite Wellness Network to meet with other HR folks regularly and continue the conversation of all things wellness, click the button below.

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**This podcast was originally published April 27, 2016 - some details and dates may no longer be accurate.**

Brandon: Welcome to the HR for Small Business podcast, this is your host Brandon Laws. Today I have a returning guest, Benjamin Prinzing, he is the CEO, Founder, and Chief of everything at Kadalyst. They are a worksite wellness company and they are in Portland, Oregon. Benjamin, good to have you back!

Benjamin: Thanks for having me! It’s good to be back.

Brandon: Could you define what the wearables are and then maybe some examples of some of the things that people are starting to use?

Benjamin: Yeah, a wearable is really anything that you put on, right? So when it comes to corporate wellness I think the most common ones that we see are, you know, the Apple watch, the heart rate monitors, the pedometers and step counters. And most commonly like the Fitbit, the activity trackers. We’re even seeing wearables now getting into clothing, so we could track different aspects of our heart rate and things like that through our clothes that we wear. So that’s how I would define wearables, anything that we’re putting on to track some sort of data point.

Brandon: So, from an employer’s perspective, those that are actually on the leading edge of wellness and actually have these wellness programs, do you see that a lot of employers are starting to integrate the wearables? At least with some sort of subsidy or maybe they’re even paying for the full thing or just encouraging employees to actually use them for tracking?

Benjamin: That’s a good question. We have a lot of employers that we’re seeing at least right now in our market here in the northwest inquiring about them. Some of them have definitely already moved forward and have bought them for their employees. In a way it is kind of like this new fad, though it’s not really that far of a leap from where we’ve come from, so if we kind of backtrack a little bit. When the Biggest Loser TV show came up, we started seeing that get launched in companies, these Biggest Loser competitions. And then biometric screenings have been a big rave for probably, gosh, the last 10 years. Health Risk Assessments as well, too.

Now we’ve gone to online tracking tools. So going from online tracking to an actual wearable with apps is not that far of a stretch, so we definitely see a lot more companies leaning toward that because it’s kind of like the next thing they’re trying out. I think one of the biggest challenges that we have with worksite wellness is how do we keep it new and fresh. We’re always looking for something new and fresh, and right now the wearables is where it’s at.

Brandon: You know, some of the biggest benefits I’ve noticed in using wearables is the instant data, the dashboarding, that kind of stuff. And over the years as I’ve had pedometers, and now I have a Fitbit, I really want to upgrade now to an Apple iWatch, those sort of things. But from the get-go, I always had something that just counted my steps. But now a lot of the devices are monitoring heart rates and they’re doing all sorts of other sleep patterns and all that. Where do you see this going, for wearables? Are we going to get to the point where we’re wearing some sort of wristband on our arm or sleeve that’s measuring the things that we have in our body, like what we’re in-taking for food and beverages and those sort of things? And how does it affect wellness programs, going forward?

Benjamin: Yeah! I mean, it’s not going to go anywhere. Technology is obviously getting deployed in every facet of our lives. Worksite wellness, why would that one be missed, especially with health and wellness? There’s technology coming out that can measure the calories on your plate! There’s a special plate. And mugs that can track what’s actually inside of your thermos – is it milk, is it a protein drink, is it water. And it tracks that and actually sends data over to your phone. It’s definitely not going away. What we’ll definitely see, though, is the cost of these kinds of solutions coming way down. I think that’s going to be the biggest push that we’ll see with these wearables. In the future we’ll see a lot more companies adopting this because it will be a little more affordable. You had mentioned some of these wearables that can track your sleep and can track your heart rate – we’re just going to be starting to track more stuff. Some of these tools are $100+. Once we start seeing them drop down and be a little bit more affordable we’ll definitely see a huge growth spurt with companies adopting them. It’ll just be more affordable to do so, so why not?

Brandon: As employers have these small or even full-blown wellness programs, how do you see them using the wearable technology to really integrate and help the tracking and just get people excited and thinking about wellness? That’s the thing with the wearables, I got excited! When I started using a Fitbit, I wanted to go out and run and to compete with my colleagues and what not, and I see some benefits for wellness programs. But how do employers dive in and really integrate these?

Benjamin: With any program, it’s no different, you have to start small and you have to do a really good job communicating what it is you’re trying to go after and get the employees’ buy-in. Especially with something like wearables, right now there definitely are cheap wearables out there. You can get a pedometer for about $5. So those are definitely ways you can start small there, and then if you’ve gotten some good traction, then move it along. I’ve seen corporations that, good example, they have pedometers, they don’t have $150+ Fitbit, and that’s fine. So whatever that budget is, as always, start small. I’ve seen companies that have bought wearables, Fitbit for their entire employee population, which is over 100 employees.

Brandon: Wow! Oh my goodness.

Benjamin: They didn’t even ask them if they wanted one, and about 30% of them actually used it. That was a huge expense.

Brandon: Oh what a big waste of money!

Benjamin: Exactly! So there’s definitely ways of going about it. No matter what it is, it just needs to be communicated really well upfront.

Brandon: I think that’s a good point. Ask your employees, “What’s going to make you excited about wellness?” And maybe it’s not wearables! Maybe they don’t understand what the benefits are. That’s a great point and I think employers who are listening to this should probably take note of that – poll your audience, poll your employees, what do they actually want? Because you don’t want to spend—Fitbit are $200, $250 depending on some of the upper echelon quality of the Fitbit. They could be $250.

Benjamin: Exactly!

Brandon: It’s crazy.

Benjamin: Studies have shown, too, that where it’s really working is with younger people, 20-35 years old. They’re really adapting to it. I think we need to do some research on it too, where is this working? It’s been around for a while now, these Fitbits, so there’s plenty of data and research that can suggest what some of the best practices are, what’s working, what’s not working. Honestly just some simple Google searches of “will this work with my group” would be helpful.

What are the benefits and negatives to using wearables in the workplace?

Brandon: There are so many benefits, I think, to using wearables. There is, however, some likely negative consequences. I want to talk about some of the benefits, first off. What do you see as some of the main benefits of using wearables in the workplace?

Benjamin: I like to see that there’s something visual and tangible that you can see. Sometimes when we do things in wellness like health coaching or even biometric screenings, often those types of things are done in private and it’s confidential. And wearables just really expose this health initiative out loud. You’re physically having to wear something, you’re monitoring something, you’re talking about it, it’s creating really good energy and awareness, and that’s what we need to get back to. Instead of health risk management we need to be focusing on just health improvement and health awareness and making it more fun. I believe that’s what the intentions of wearables are. And it allows you to have those short wins, too, not necessarily looking at year-to-year or multi-year strategy for wellness, we’re talking about what can we do with this wearable in the next 4 weeks, the next 6 weeks? It creates that sense of urgency which we haven’t really seen done that well in other programs. That’s what wearable really brings to the table, it exposes various aspects of wellness that we just haven’t seen yet.

Brandon: What do you think about habits? Do you think it’s making some sort of impact, either positively or negatively, on the habits of people from a wellness perspective?

Benjamin: You know, there’s this great book that came out not too long ago, it’s called The Power of Habit. It talks about your cues, your routines, and your rewards system, and we’re all the same. What the wearable does is it creates that trigger, that constant reminder of, Oh crap! I’ve been sitting on my butt all day. I need to get up and move! Even my wife, when the Nike Fuel Band first came out, she jumped all over that. And I thought, oh this is probably going to last a couple months, and she had it until it broke – over a year. And it worked! It was a constant reminder for her to get up and do something and I think that’s what’s unique about that. It hasn’t been an email that’s getting sent by her health plan or wellness vendor – how often are we checking our emails off the clock? This wearable is a constant reminder, it’s physically touching you all day long. So I think that’s what makes it helpful in creating those triggers so we can hopefully move along our own personal wellness journey.

Brandon: Something I’d add to that is, so I have a Fitbit, that’s why I keep talking about it, that’s my only experience with wearables. But the social part of it is so huge for me because as I’m competing with colleagues or connecting with them and I see how many steps they’re getting everyday, and you can even talk trash or cheer on people. I think that social cue just as much as you alluded to your personal cues and your dashboard, I think that in itself is a huge accountability piece. So I’m always thinking about getting up from my desk and walking around just to get a few extra steps or I’m thinking about, you know, at lunch I need to go walk up and down the street just to be moving because my steps haven’t increased over the day. Or my heart rate, maybe it’s at a certain level and I just need to get moving or calm down. I think those things can help you when you’re connecting with other people and have those cues.

Benjamin: You’re absolutely right and studies have been around forever when it comes to peer support, whether it be having this wearable or trying to quit smoking or trying to lose weight or trying to eat healthier. All of this – having a support group is going to be helpful. So if you happen to have somebody else who has a Fitbit and you’re doing similar activities, of course that’s going to be a huge one, especially for people who might not be as self-motivating, having that social part will definitely be the key to success for sure. It’s not just about the Fitbit, it’s definitely taking advantage of all the aspects that a wearable can provide, and you nailed it – the social aspect will be huge for sure.

Brandon: So we know one of the benefits is having that constant dashboard in your face of the data and cool charts and all that when you go your application. So obviously they’re collecting a lot of personal data from the device itself, through Bluetooth technology or whatever. Do you see any potential risk with the personal data collection?

Benjamin: That’s a great question, and in fact, the EEOC right now has wearables under review to determine whether or not that data being collected is actually considered personal health information and should be protected. So it’s just always in the best interest of an employer to keep an arm’s length from any of that personal health information and have some kind of third party manage that for them, and get the aggregate report. It’s just better to be safe than sorry. That’s definitely going to be a concern, and who knows what the EEOC’s going to do, but because it’s under review it shows it’s at that gray line, might just want to step one way or the other depending on what you want to do. So, again, always keep an arm’s length away from your employees’ personal data, for sure.

Brandon: Yeah, and I think it’s good we’re reviewing that and having these conversations now. At this point I don’t think they’re collecting so much data on our health with these wearables. They’re tracking steps, they’re tracking, in some cases, heart rate or weight from a user input, and maybe some other things. So I don’t think it’s vital data. But do you see any other negative unintended consequences of using wearables and having that data collected?

Benjamin: I think connecting it back to your point there, it is personal information. Heart rate is technically personal information while your steps, that’s not. It could come back and bite us, for sure. The other negative consequence would actually just be more on making sure we’re not setting ourselves up to fail. I see a lot of these programs get launched. With actually any worksite wellness program – I’m not trying to put wearables down, it happens with any initiative where we’re not setting the right expectations and then coming to the end of the year we really don’t have anything to show for it, we didn’t really have many people participating and we blame it on the vendor or we blame it on budget or we blame it on the wearable. Well, it didn’t have anything to do with Fitbit, because they’ve been successful out there, it’s been because we haven’t communicated it or we haven’t had a point person to really run it, oversee it, promote it, keep it top of mind. So that would be the only negative consequence is if you’re convincing your CEO to spend all this money on wearables and incentives and it was a flop. You might get in trouble for wasting a lot of money, that would definitely be a negative consequence. So always keep that top of mind.

Brandon: Do you know of any companies that are using wearables? You alluded to the fact that one company was going to buy Fitbits for all of their employees and only 30% of the group actually used them, but do you have any other case studies where people or employers made this effort to integrate wearables in some part of their wellness program and had a lot of success at it?

Benjamin: Yeah, I mentioned them earlier, a local company here in Portland which is SAIF, technically they’re down in Salem. They have like 1,000 employees! And they have 100% participation in their pedometer program. And that sounds amazing, and I’m not saying everybody can get to that point, but if you kind of look at what’s happened, what’s got them there, it’s a couple things. It’s very well incentivized, it’s taken years for them to get there, it’s been more of a long-term thing, it’s now just become part of their overall culture, and lastly, they have a dedicated Wellness Manager who oversees the entire program, so hats off to that person for making sure it’s getting run efficiently. So kind of lessons learned for smaller businesses, if you can’t have a dedicated full time person, there still needs to be someone who’s kind of overseeing that and doing the marketing. That’s why I believe why SAIF Corporation has had such good success is because they’ve had somebody overseeing that. And like I said, now it’s just part of their culture, if you’re a new employee and you’re not doing it, from what I’ve been told, you’re kind of the weird one for not participating! Because that’s just what you do when you’re there, which I think is amazing.

Brandon: If somebody comes to you and says, Benjamin, I want to figure out a way to integrate wearables in my worksite wellness program? What kind of advice would you give them to get started?

Benjamin: Same thing I would suggest for big businesses, just start small, do a pilot, test with a few employees and perhaps don’t have to necessarily buy them the most expensive wearables upfront. It’s a trial and error thing, not everything is going to work for every company. The data suggests that these work really, really well within a certain demographic, and so if you don’t fit that demographic, which is the 20-35 year olds, you maybe have an aging population, not saying it can’t work with them but just make sure you’re testing these solutions out before you just sort of go full board and go all out with buying everybody a tool. That would be my suggestion.

Brandon: So, let’s end the podcast with giving employers a sense for what wearables are on the market and from price ranges. Do you have ones that you like and actually would recommend?

Benjamin: I mean, I’ve only tried a few so I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on all the ones that are available. There are more and more and more almost every day it seems like. But what I can tell you is that Fitbit actually owns 70% of the market in corporate wellness.

Brandon: They own that much?!

Benjamin: 70%!

Brandon: That’s crazy. I mean, their tool is amazing. Just the dashboarding application in itself is fantastic. That’s why I stay with Fitbit.

Benjamin: And that’s why, they have an amazing platform for businesses specifically, they’ve invested a lot of money to make a corporate wellness program using their tool. The Fuel Band was great when it was out, but it didn’t have that business platform.

Brandon: Yeah, it was adopted by users on the cloud-based stuff. If you have cool looking hardware device, that’s one thing, but having the software part of it is such a huge component, and I’d argue it’s the most important aspect of it.

Benjamin: It’s absolutely critical. There’s actually another local company in Bend that has their own device, it’s called CardioFit and the website is KrowdFit. And actually it’s the only FDA-approved device on the market. What makes theirs unique is that they tie it to a community raffle program. So if you’re hitting all your goals, you’re sleeping the right amount of hours, you’re doing the right amount of steps, the system actually automatically enrolls you into a raffle for winning cash prizes. I have a company that I work with that’s actually a small business, only about 25-30 employees, and they’ve won a few times. Actually, one of their employees just won the $5,000 prize! Which actually ended up helping other employees enroll in the program. Theirs is a little different, theirs is meant to be paid for by the employee, I think it’s $25 per month. It’s a membership you sign up for that gives you access to the online tool. But it’s a different way of doing it. It’s to not only compete with yourselves at work but as a community, as a whole. It’s amazing, the people that I’ve seen who use CardioFit, there’s always been at least one employee who’s won one of the raffles. You’d think it’d be almost impossible, but it’s not! So that’s another one to look into for sure.

Brandon: Well, hey, this has been a fun topic! I appreciate you geeking out with me a little bit because I do love the technology and I know you do too, these are always fun conversations. Can you give listeners a sense for how they can learn more about what you’re up to, Kadalyst, and then I know you’re involved with a lot of events, so maybe if people are local to the Portland, Oregon area and they want to see you speak or see what you’re involved in, maybe just highlight those a little bit.

Benjamin: Sure! As of last year, I joined the board of the American Heart Association. And so I’ve been involved with their Worksite Wellness Summit held at the Oregon Convention Center for, gosh, the last 5 years, and I've been chairing it the last 3. That’s a great event to come to, we have our next event coming up on September 7th, 2016 at the Oregon Convention Center. For more information on that you can go to We’re just about to put all of our speakers on there and the agenda for the day. So we’ve kind of locked everything in for it, just need to update the website at this point. And then about 4 years ago we did a spin-off of the summit. Myself and a good friend of mine, Renee Coombs, who just happens to be the Wellness Manager down at SAIF Corporation, thought that we needed to meet more regularly. So every other month we meet at the downtown Moda building. It’s a non-solicitation environment, we call it the Worksite Wellness Network, so is the website. The upcoming events are on there, we have our next event coming up April 14th, 2016. We will be talking about change management and how to apply those strategies to wellness. So those are some great resources to connect with, of course the other resource is our website, But I like to get people connected with other employers, so definitely attend the bi-monthly events. And we have people coming all the way up from Eugene, we have people coming from Kelso, Washington to attend our events. We have about 350 members representing about 250 organizations throughout the greater Portland metro area. So it’s a great way to network and get plugged in to the community.

Brandon: Benjamin Prinzing of Kadalyst, thank you my friend!

Benjamin: You’re very welcome sir!

Follow this link to hear more episodes from the HR for Small Business Podcast with Brandon Laws of Xenium.

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