Global Practices

The Quantified Self and Corporate Wellness



The quantified self movement is alive and well and gaining momentum. Increasingly, we are digitizing ourselves – counting, measuring and tracking everything from how many steps we take to the calories we consume to our glucose, heart and breathing rates.

Where does corporate wellness fit in this brave new world?

While consumers are increasingly empowering themselves given new apps and gadgets, corporate wellness leaders are seizing an opportunity to steer employees toward better choices.

At this fall’s first-ever WIRED Health Conference, Sue Siegel, CEO of GE’s* Healthymagination, spoke of GE’s internal “Health Ahead” program, born out of the reality that GE’s healthcare costs were increasing while there was no demonstrable improvement in employee health. Noting that GE is an employer as well as a payer, given that they are self-insured with over 300,000 employees, she spoke of the wide variety of tools that helped employees to generate data and make decisions about their health. Saying, “It is hard to find a brownie now at GE,“ Siegel underscored what we at Edelman have been evangelizing for some time – health and behavior change are highly social endeavors.

At the same conference, Jennifer Kurkoski and Brian Welle, researchers from Google embedded in the People Operations department (Google’s name for HR), noted that, “Google is not a conventional company – and [they] don’t expect to become one” while they spoke of the ongoing research they do with (not on) their employees. Relaying the importance of delivering the right information at the right time, Kurkoski shared that, “Choice provides the opportunity to nudge.”

They spoke of Google employees choosing smaller plates in their 24 Google-operated dining choices 50 percent more often when they understood that smaller plates make a difference with portion control. “Meatless Mondays” were apparently not a success, given that they took choice away from employees. On the other hand, moving candy from clear plastic bins to opaque containers that were less conveniently located, requiring Googlers to make a more deliberate choice while still retaining their right to have unlimited candy, was a success. Candy consumption dropped dramatically as a result, leading many conference participants to question whether Google might be able run its own observational studies on a large employee population and publish their results.

As tools to measure and track our personal data and progress become more ubiquitous, I suspect corporate wellness leaders will increasingly make use of tools that do more than nudge employees to make the right choices, but ensure that they stay the course and potentially adjust rewards based on what the data say. Big brother or progress? You tell me.

Kym White is the global practice chair, Health.

*Edelman Client

[Photo Credit: tomfs]
  • As the CEO of a technology-focused corporate wellness company, the (very interesting) challenge is on the other side of the spectrum from the quantified-selfers. That is, those people who aren’t already thinking about counting their steps or tracking their calories, etc. To put it more bluntly, those who are overweight and/or out of shape. These are the people that corporations need to reach most and can benefit the most from many of these new tools.

    The QS movement might have a bit of a bubble up/trickle down effect, but it will be limited. It’s absolutely crucial that companies – and technologists – focus on reaching more than those people are are already interested in their health. Indeed, it’s our job to help reach those people who are NOT already actively engaged in their health.

  • I think this is a natural fit. Wired Enterprise just did a piece on this feature some quantification I’m doing around knowledge work and health.

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