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The Last Word: Actually App-etizing

If a company is debating the merits of apps and games in the hopes of enabling employees to learn, track, measure, compete and possibly get healthy, get in the game before it's game over.

June 8, 2012
Related Topics: Health and Wellness, Social Media, Technology
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I can vividly recall sitting in the kitchen, listening to the garbling fuzz-buzz-beep-beep of my dial-up connection while saying, "It works just fine. I don't need to pay for high-speed Internet service."

In retrospect, this is like when my mom told my dad, "I don't need a microwave. I can reheat dinner after work just fine on the stove top or in the oven." My mom now has a microwave and has had one for several decades, and I have been paying my local cable provider a hefty sum each month to get the fastest downloads possible.

I am not an early adopter. I joined Facebook only a few years ago with the sole purpose of spying on my college-age brother. Just two years ago, I purchased my first personal home computer because I needed a device to store music and pictures. And recently, I took my technology to a whole new level when I purchased a smartphone (cue celestial choir).

Guess what: I am smarter, or at least more connected and social. I don't need to tell you about every app I use, because chances are you've downloaded them already. But, as I look at my phone, I see a trend. I'm using apps to be healthy!

    • Yelp helps me choose restaurants by showing patron reviews and menus. I often search to see if a restaurant has both unique and healthy foods.
    • Epicurious lets me download healthy recipes with shopping lists, ensuring I get all the needed fresh ingredients at the grocery store.
    • Nike+GPS allows me to track how far I've walked or run, calculate my calories burned and includes a cheering section when I reach milestones while running.
    • Weight Watchers enables me to track what I eat vs. what I should eat and how my weight fluctuates each week.

I have to believe this contradiction is not unusual: a late adopter who suddenly dives into the deep end. No employer is encouraging me to use these apps to be healthier. I use them because I like getting instant feedback on my behavior, challenging myself and having access to information I want, when I want it.

But I may be in the minority in that respect. Employers are increasingly turning to online wellness programs such as Keas online fitness challenges and ShapeUp's group challenges urging employees to take control of their health habits. The move to mobile social wellness has even spawned a new term: "gamification." It means adding gamelike features to software and other business processes to make them more fun and engaging.

With diabetes at near epidemic proportions and obesity a national crisis that has become first lady Michelle Obama's cause célèbre, fostering employee wellness—be it online or in the gym—is not just a fad. In this era of trimming benefits budgets, encouraging employees to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly just makes good business sense.

Am I healthier? I don't really know. I don't make the right choice every time, but thanks to my apps, I can log in and see if things are out of whack—not enough veggies or exercise or too many carbs. This helps my next choice to (I hope) be a better choice. In short, I continue to check in to keep myself in check.

Does this make me a better employee? Absolutely. When I'm at the top of my game—walking to work rather than taking a cab, having an egg with fruit for breakfast and not just a latte, and eating homemade vegetable soup instead of buying my favorite brie and fig spread sandwich for lunch—I feel better and, I believe, work better.

If a company is debating the merits of apps and games in the hopes of enabling employees to learn, track, measure, compete and possibly get healthy, get in the game before it's game over.

P.S. I love to connect "old style," too. I'll be at the Society for Human Resource Management conference later this month. If you will be, too, I'd like to meet up and hear your thoughts on Workforce Management and workforce.com. Send me a note to pick a time or drop me a line anytime at awhitney@workforce.com.

Andrea Whitney is Workforce Management's editorial director. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

Workforce Management, June 2012, p. 50 -- Subscribe Now!

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