The online mattress manufacturer Casper is one of many companies experimenting with new ways to encourage employees to live healthier lives, in this case by monitoring their exercise and sleep habits and rewarding those who work out and get to bed on time. Leah Fessler profiles the company’s wellness incentive program at Quartz:
Casper co-founder Neil Parikh explains that employees track their exercise and sleep via IncentFit, a fitness-reward app designed for company use. They use the app to “check in” at their desired gym or fitness facility. (Location-based algorithms ensure that you really are at SoulCycle, not on your couch.) IncentFit also rewards running, walking, or biking milage tracked via fitness apps or devices like Fitbit.
Payment is distributed monthly: $20 per fitness facility/class visit, $0.20 per mile walked, $4 per mile ran, $2 per mile biked, and $50 per race completed. The startup has also extended the benefit to rest, encouraging employees to track nightly sleep via IncentFit for $2 per night. Through IncentFit, Casper employees can earn a monthly maximum of $130 for exercise and $60 for sleep—a $190 cap set by Casper’s leadership.
“[A]s an employee, I’d be very nervous about this benefit, particularly who has access to sensitive exercise and sleep data,” organizational psychologist Liane Davey tells Fessler:
It’s impossible to prevent implicit bias from slipping into our decision making, Davey says. So if an employer’s bias is that people who work out are more driven, more responsible, or healthier, the company may start to think that regular gym-goers are more suitable for management or have better stamina. If an employee is exercising a lot and sleeping little, implicit bias may lead an employer to view the worker as obsessive, less focused on work, or—especially at a sleep-focused company—harming their own productivity.
If the same HR person or manager with access to your exercise and sleep intensity is also evaluating your merit and eligibility for a promotion, such implicit biases will almost certainly be at play, says Davey. This ought to worry both employees and leaders who care about equality. At Casper, management does not have access to individual employees’ exercise and sleep data—only employees can see their own records. However, management can see how much each employee is paid through the Incentfit program monthly, which is indicative how much each employee hit the gym.
Despite these concerns, the technological and regulatory landscape is growing increasingly favorable to wellness programs that collect employee health data in the US. Several health insurance companies and wellness vendors rolled out new programs last year that enable organizations to give their employees incentives like Casper’s for meeting fitness goals, and a bill introduced in Congress in March would exempt wellness programs from the genetic privacy protections of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which would pave the way for employers or wellness vendors to gather employees’ genetic data.
Multinational employers should beware, however, that this permissive regulatory posture is not shared by other countries, particularly in Europe. This divergence may reflect the fact that workers in the US are less concerned about having their personal data monitored by their employers than one might expect, whereas a study in the UK last year found that employees there were wary of using fitness trackers provided by their employers.