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Optimizing Work and Wellness – How Wellness Apps Are Blurring the Lines

Someone at their office, using a wellness app on company time

Business have long recognized the benefits of employee wellness. Since the 1950s, companies have progressively invested in the well-being of their employees to some extent. This initially involved attracting employees by offering health insurance benefits. But this soon led to other worker perks involving a host of different wellness programs. But nothing compared to the investments that companies are making today in the aftermath of the pandemic. And many are finding wellness apps an attractive way to provide these services to their company members.

For employees, however, the benefits of wellness apps are less clear. Without question, these virtual solutions have enabled millions to exercise, meditate and de-stress during COVID. This has come at a great time when a variety of stressors are affecting global populations. This not only includes those associated with the pandemic but also those linked to social unrest and inequalities. Likewise, we’re constantly connected to our mobile devices and computer, making the distinction between work and wellness screen time confusing. Therefore, it’s worth questioning the effectiveness of these wellness apps in the first place.

“Mindfulness is less about reducing stress and more about reducing dissatisfaction through direct investigation of our experiences. But marketing stress reduction is more successful, and definitely more likely to win a download or corporate account.” – Randima Fernando, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Center for Humane Technology

The Inherent Connection Between Work and Wellness

In terms of wellness, a progressive evolution of health has embraced a holistic point of view. We commonly appreciate that there’s more to wellness than physical health alone. Emotional well-being, mental health, restorative sleep as well as social wellness are also important. If we didn’t realize it before, we have certainly come to appreciate it amidst the pandemic. And along with this realization can a host of wellness apps to accommodate our needs while working form home. However, we view these wellness apps on the same devices on which we work. Thus, it’s no wonder boundaries between work and wellness are not well-delineated. (Read more about the push for maintaining mental health during COVID in this Bold Business article.)

Not only have employees purchased subscriptions to these wellness apps in large numbers. Businesses also appreciate the potential advantage of these virtual fitness platforms and are incentivizing members to do so. Work and wellness are tightly linked with every dollar invested on wellness having an ROI six-fold. Sick workers cost companies roughly $575 billion a year globally. Likewise, for every dollar spent on wellness programs, healthcare costs fall by more than three dollars. Understanding the stresses associated with working from home, many companies proactively chose to up their game.

“I think [wellness apps are] probably mostly sinister primarily because of social media and capitalism’s ability to cannibalize everything…We’re all trying to feel better, and unfortunately feeling better takes a lot of individual labor outside of purchasing things, but there’s also a pleasure and an eroticism to capitalist consumption that we partake in.” – Kate Berlant, Comedian and Cohost of wellness comedy podcast, Poog

Balancing Work and Wellness – There’s an App for That!

During the pandemic, wellness apps have boomed. Luxe indoor gyms with virtual platforms are highly popular as well as pricey. Peloton has increased its membership by 232 percent this last year with millions stuck at home. The same is true for other wellness apps like Tonal and Mirror. In addition, mindfulness apps designed to help with stress at work and wellness have also grown exponentially. Calm and Headspace are among the most popular. In fact, Calm, which runs about $70 for an annual subscription, has seen 100 percent growth this year. These are just a few of the many digital therapeutic apps available for purchase today. (Read more about the digital therapeutic apps making a difference in holistic health in this Bold Business story.)

Someone running, presumably on their lunchbreak
Work and wellness go hand in hand when it comes to productivity and personal health.

The problem with many of these apps is their inability to actually help stress at work and wellness endeavors. The technology wellness firms promoting these virtual platforms suggest they will enable holistic health. Indeed, most will, but it still requires a significant amount of commitment and effort on the part of the individual. In this regard, wellness apps often provide the same opportunities as self-reflection, walking in nature, or a home gym. And because they don’t allow us to “disconnect” from our devices, we may never feel a work and wellness separation.

“We already walk around with the seed of dissatisfaction and the sense that something could be better. And the way we should navigate that sense of imperfection is taking a walk or meditating, but instead we reach for the supercomputers in our pockets.” – Randima Fernando

Sacrificing Long-Term Wellness for Short-Term Gratification

The promise of wellness apps in their ability to harmonize work and wellness may be misleading. Holistic health experts encourage that we disconnect from our devices and limit the time we spend digitally engaged. This has been difficult to do during a pandemic when work, socializing, and entertainment all revolve around virtual platforms. If we now add wellness apps to the mix, that’s another part of our day in front of a blue screen. When it’s all said and done, this may not be ideal in truly promoting our overall well-being.

Naturally, technology companies want to advertise these virtual products. However, their motivation extends beyond profits and revenues. By engaging individuals in these health-focused platforms, they also have the opportunity to collect information and data bout its users. Social psychologists have referred to this as surveillance capitalism, where we engage virtual platforms that monitor our behaviors. This data is then used to further promote items we might like for additional consumption. If this is the case with wellness apps, then the long-range health effects may not be beneficial.

Consider Adding an Old-School Approach to Wellness

There’s little doubt we will remain virtually connected in many ways after the pandemic. The majority of workers expect to work from home, at least part-time. Likewise, videoconferencing, telehealth, and online collaborations will continue. And of course, optimizing work and wellness will remain a priority. But rather than choosing to use wellness apps for these pursuits, disconnecting from technology might be a better approach. This will be easier once the pandemic subsides. But we can invest in non-technology wellness activities today without risking data privacy or cost. From a truly holistic perspective, this is likely to bee a much better long-term plan.


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