It may still be too soon to tell how widespread wearable fitness trackers will become in corporate wellness programs but for Phoenix Companies, a life insurance and annuity company based in Hartford, Conn., wearable wellness is anything but a fad.

The company launched a modest corporate wellness program in 2010, starting with health risk assessments and biometric screenings. In 2012, the company decided to invest more time and resources into its wellness program, adding disease management and health coaching components to its core offerings, in addition to one-off programs such as Weight Watchers at Work. “We recognized there were some fundamental health concerns at an aggregate level,” says Suzette Louro, 2nd vice president of benefits at Phoenix Companies, which has 650 employees.

In 2014, the company bought some Fitbits and planned to use them in a team step-tracking competition. Employees who registered for a team would receive a Fitbit at no cost. Louro had purchased about 50 Fitbits and all of them were gone within five minutes. In the end, the company paid for over 250 of the devices for employees.

“That was an awakening experience,” says Louro. “We always try to reflect on what we’ve learned, what went well. And I think what made the difference was the instant gratification. … people who were not otherwise motivated felt almost obligated to try it.”

Also see: Consumers willing to share wearable data in exchange for break on insurance premiums

Phoenix Companies’ experience with the devices reflects research that shows some employees may still be somewhat cautious about spending their own money on wearable wellness. Between 29% and 42% of consumers said they’d be “very” or “somewhat” willing to buy a device for $100, according to a consumer survey from consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. But make wearables free, employer-paid or insurer-paid, and about two-thirds said they’d wear a smart watch or fitness band.

And while the PwC survey found that privacy was cited as one of the top three reasons consumers would hesitate to  purchase a wearable device, employees at Phoenix Companies were not all that worried about their data.

“With the Fitbit I never really had any concerns because what’s being tracked is just steps being walked,” says Bob Lombardi, a senior vice president and chief actuary. “The program has been so helpful to me and others. I don’t have any concerns about tracking that because of all the benefits.”

Lombardi attributes his 57-pound weight loss to his participation in the Weight Watchers at Work program, along with his participation in the company-sponsored Fitbit challenges.

“We weren’t getting into their personal health conditions or biometric-level data,” says Louro. “So it [privacy] was not a concern at all during the campaign.”

Also see: 5 reasons wearable wellness is here to stay

Phoenix Companies’ success with the Fitbit challenges – Louro says less than 1% of employees who received a device did not end up using it – expanded beyond the company’s walls. “We had employees whose spouses ended up buying [a Fitbit] so they could go out together and compete and help each other get healthier. We heard stories of children of employees would go out as well and whole families had their own competitions. It really expanded beyond what we can directly impact with our employees.”

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