In an effort to bring down employee health costs, employers and health insurers are turning to online games that boost workers' wellness.
Specifically, the Wall Street Journal reports, companies are using the games to encourage employees to exercise regularly and develop healthy eating habits. The games often involve digital awards, real-world prizes, or financial incentives.
A growing trend
A survey released in March by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health found that:
- 9% of employers said they expect to use online games in their worker health programs by the end of 2012; and
- 7% of employers said they plan to use online games as part of worker health initiatives some time in 2013.
About 60% of employers say their health initiatives for workers would include online games by the end of 2013, as well as other types of competitions between employee groups, the survey found.
Some unintended consequences
However, researchers note that there is little data showing that such games effectively boost employee wellness.
Moreover, some observers say that the use of wellness-oriented games could create a backlash among workers, who may feel coerced to participate because of financial incentives or pressure from colleagues. For example, Leah Myers, a specialist in the human resources department at AOL, said some participants in a employee walking contest expressed concern that certain team members were negatively affecting results by not being active enough (Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 5/1).