With fitness trackers in the workplace, bosses can monitor your every step — and possibly more
By Christopher Rowland
Feb 16 2019
It’s led by Wayne Gono, and his wife, Patsy, whose father founded the business in 1970. Patsy is the company’s president. Wayne has taken the title of visionary/chief networking officer and has passed the title of chief executive to the couple’s son, Chad, 36, the third generation to take the reins. The company never gave any thought to the fitness of its employees, Wayne Gono said, until a few years ago, when it offered its workers a chance to join a UnitedHealth program that distributed basic Trio wrist devices that measure steps.
Enrollees in the program, called UnitedHealthcare Motion, get up to $1,000 a year if they hit certain goals, such as 10,000 steps in a day, 3,000 of those steps within 30 minutes, and 500 steps at intervals throughout the day. The money reimburses health-plan enrollees for prescription co-pays and other payments under their deductibles.
Gono said he has not seen evidence the program is saving the business money on premiums. But he says it stands to reason that healthier employees will be better for the bottom line — eventually. Regal Plastics employees who wear the devices (many don’t, especially younger people who don’t have many medical expenses) said they like them.
Gono’s UnitedHealth app reveals a list of the top performers. Ronald “Hot Rod’’ Wilborn, 47, has an advantage over many of his colleagues and consistently ranks near the top. His job, using precision machines to turn sheet plastic into useful things, requires him to walk multiple round trips from the shop to the warehouse. On a recent day, one round trip clocked at 386 steps. He frequently amasses more than 20,000 steps a day. He gets a small check every quarter from UnitedHealth.
“The more I walk, the more I get,’’ Wilborn said.
Another employee whom Gono said he personally challenged to lose weight, Eddie Watson, 46, works in the Irving office as a sales representative. He has lost 40 pounds but has hit a plateau and is looking for ways to lose 20 more. He has a 6-year-old daughter and takes her to the park near his house to accumulate steps, he said.
During an interview in the Regal break room, Watson munched from a plate of guacamole and greens. Exercise surveillance is just part of a broader culture shift at Regal aimed at employee well-being, including introduction of standing desks, music during working hours, and graphics at work stations that show each person’s working style and preferences.
As part of the changing culture, Regal’s leaders encouraged employees to “clean up your life, too,’’ Watson said. “That kind of planted the seeds.’’
Now, Watson said he examines every aspect of his diet through a prism of personal health, for example: “I can’t drink this soda, because there’s no place for it in my body.’’ Without encouragement from his employer, he added, none of this would have happened.
One of the few millennials with a step-tracker on his wrist at Regal was Travis Lee, a thin, 29-year-old purchasing agent. He has few medical expenses, so he doesn’t even earn money from UnitedHealth for hitting step goals. But on Black Friday last year, he upgraded to a Fitbit Charge 2 because he likes monitoring his steps, sleep and heart rate. He synced it to his UnitedHealth account so he still shows up on Gono’s app.
He doesn’t worry too much about where his data goes, or how it is used.
“It’s part of the generation. We’re used to it,’’ Lee said. “We kind of know we’re giving something up to use it.’’