How Mobile Technology Can Improve Employees' Well-Being
Business Journal

How Mobile Technology Can Improve Employees' Well-Being

by Dan Witters and Sangeeta Agrawal

Story Highlights

  • One in five people use mobile tech to improve their well-being
  • People who routinely use health-related apps do better in well-being
  • Health-related apps play a role in high well-being for employees

People are increasingly using mobile technology to improve their well-being. This isn't surprising, given that mobile technology is becoming more integral to people's lives. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 39% of American adults now use only mobile phones, which outweighs the 7% who use only landline phones by a 5-to-1 ratio.

Gallup research shows that about two-thirds (65%) of American adults have a smartphone. About half of these smartphone users -- or 34% of all adults -- have downloaded at least one app that is meant to support healthy living, and 19% of all adults have downloaded and routinely used at least one such app. This means that one out of every five people are regularly using mobile technology to improve their chances of a life well-lived. Among full-time workers, this percentage climbs to 23%.

Out of 11 popular types of apps on the market, usage varies. Across all adults, the most common use is for calorie counting: 18% report having downloaded an app for that purpose. Of these, one-third -- or 6% -- routinely use the app. Health recipes and food/exercise diaries are the next most common type of apps used.

Getting Healthy: There's an App for That

Mobile Apps and Health: Where Technology and Well-Being Converge

Gallup and Healthways define well-being based on five essential elements: purpose, social, financial, community and physical. Taken together, these elements provide key insights into whether people find daily life and work experiences fulfilling, have strong and supportive relationships, are financially secure, are proud of and actively involved with their community, and are physically healthy and making smart choices about their health.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being 5

Gallup and Healthways have developed a comprehensive, definitive source of well-being measurement, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being 5. This scientific survey instrument and reporting experience measures, tracks, and reports on the well-being of individuals and organizations. The five essential elements of well-being are:

  • Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  • Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

Respondents can be classified as thriving, struggling or suffering on each element according to how they rate that particular facet of well-being in their lives:

  • Thriving: Well-being that is strong, consistent and progressing in a particular element.
  • Struggling: Well-being that is moderate or inconsistent in a particular element.
  • Suffering: Well-being that is low and at high risk in a particular element.

Across the U.S., 28% of American adults are not thriving in any of the five elements, while just 7% are thriving in all five. But those who download and routinely use health-related apps do better in well-being. After controlling for all demographics and for previously existing chronic conditions, these regular users are thriving in at least three of the elements 33% of the time, compared with 27% among all others.

When we look closely at app use and well-being at the individual element level, however, the strength of the relationship varies. We find little difference in financial well-being between those who routinely use health apps and all others. But when it comes to physical and social well-being, routine users of health apps are more than 20% more likely to be thriving than those who don't routinely use such apps.

This highlights the dual nature of health-related apps in promoting better physical health and increased social engagement. These results don't prove that using apps will lead to better well-being outcomes; adults with high well-being might be more predisposed to download and use health-related apps. But finding these results after controlling for all demographics and chronic conditions suggests that catalyzing use of health-related apps is a good way to increase well-being.

And some types of apps are more closely related to high well-being outcomes than others. While use of running map apps and apps for healthy restaurant menu options are mutually highly linked to both social and physical well-being, other apps are more uniquely aligned. Apps for water intake and healthy recipes are strongly linked to social well-being benefits, while running maps and personal training apps are strongly associated with physical well-being.

Top Five Apps for Improving Physical and Social Well-Being

How Leaders Can Boost Employee Well-Being With Mobile Technology

Business leaders can make a substantial difference in employee well-being by encouraging workers to use health-related mobile technology and apps. Here are six things leaders can do right now to make a positive impact:

  1. Lead by example. Leaders should make time at company events to show employees a health-related app on their smartphone and explain why they like it. Nothing inspires action among workers quite like emulating leaders, especially when this behavior is reinforced regularly.
  2. Highlight an "App of the Month." Create a standing agenda item at employee meetings to share one new app that is meant to improve health or well-being. Encourage employees to compete to find the best new app to share, then recognize the winner by asking him or her to tell everyone about it.
  3. Test the usefulness of apps within your workplace. Don't assume that downloading an app will guarantee it will be used -- or that use will improve well-being. To promote both actions, create a log on the company intranet site that tracks download and use, then ask employees to rate their usability and value and share the results at company events.
  4. Set up team competitions to promote the use of well-being apps. Three key requirements for making the most of health-promotion apps are knowing what to download, understanding how best to use that app and being motivated to keep using it routinely. Team competitions -- such as counting weekly steps -- will inspire team members to complete all three requirements.
  5. Assign app champions at every branch, office, store or location. Establish a go-to person in each location who can help new users download well-being apps and understand how to use them.
  6. Make app use easy -- but don't force it. Not all employees are motivated by the same activities. Even technology-savvy workers may not be interested in or motivated by using well-being apps on their smartphones. Managers can be key advocates in helping employees find the right activities and actions that will give their well-being a boost.

Well-being apps can and do play a key role in promoting high well-being for employees. High well-being across the five elements has been linked to a variety of health, business and community outcomes. Because of this, leaders should use every tool at their disposal to enhance employee well-being -- it will benefit both the company they lead and the employees who work there.

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