Social Media, Mobile Devices Eyed for Improving Employee Health

By Nathan Eddy  |  Print this article Print

Social networking is used in some fashion by 50 percent of organizations, but ranks highest in concerns over privacy of personal information.

Employers are committed to using new technologies like gamification, mobile apps and social media to promote health engagement and achieve desired employee behavior changes, according to research released by Buck Consultants, a Xerox company, and nonprofit human resources association WorldatWork.

Among the three solutions studied, gamification—the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems—was the most prevalent (62 percent) and ranks highest in employers' perception of effectiveness. Thirty-one percent of respondents said they would likely adopt one or more new gamification elements in the coming year.

Social networking is used in some fashion by 50 percent of organizations, but ranks highest in concerns over privacy of personal information. Mobile technology is the least implemented (36 percent) but leads the pack as the highest priority for future adoption or expansion (40 percent), as the profileration of smartphones and tablets, as well as the rise of bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives continues to alter workplace interaction.

"Today's health care benefits require individuals to absorb an increasing share of expanding health care costs," Scot Marcotte, managing director of talent and HR solutions at Buck, said in a statement. "Technology offers unprecedented ways for employers to motivate and enable employees to become more effective health care consumers. But employers need to better understand what drives their workers to make the desired changes."

By far the greatest barrier preventing organizations from using these new technologies was competition from higher-priority issues in their budgets (71 percent for gamification, 73 percent for mobile technology and 68 percent for social networking). Lack of support from senior management and the absence of a technique for measuring effectiveness were also identified as barriers across all categories. In addition, 43 percent of respondents said they blocked some or all social networking or social media Websites from their organization's computers.

The survey also found that, while 73 percent of responding organizations have a health engagement strategy in place, measurement of communication effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) is lacking. Nearly half of all respondents believe mobile technology will be the most frequently adopted technology by employers during the next two years, yet only 11 percent measure ROI on mobile apps and social media initiatives. Just 21 percent measure ROI on gamification technologies.

"The lack of measurement is due, in part, to the fact that many companies are using third parties, such as health insurers and wellness program vendors, to handle various aspects of their wellness programs," Lenny Sanicola, senior benefits practice leader for WorldatWork, said in a statement. "These companies should direct their vendors to better engage employees and to collaborate on measuring effectiveness."

More than 360 employers participated in the survey, conducted jointly by Buck and WorldatWork in the fall of 2012. More than half of the respondents were multinational organizations. The median employer size was 2,500 employees, but 11 percent had a workforce in excess of 100,000.

Originally published on www.eweek.com.