More Companies Using Online Games To Boost Employee Wellness

More employers and health insurers are turning to online games to boost workers' wellness, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Companies are using such games to encourage employees to exercise regularly and develop healthy eating habits. The games often involve digital awards, real-world prizes or financial incentives.

Increasing Use of Online Games

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.

By the end of 2013, 60% of employers said their health initiatives for workers would include online games, as well as other types of competitions between employee groups, the survey found.

Potential Drawbacks

Despite the growing popularity of online health games, researchers note that there is little data showing that such games effectively boost employee wellness.

In addition, some observers say that the use of wellness-oriented games could create a backlash among workers, who might feel coerced to participate because of financial incentives or pressure from colleagues.

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.

Debra Lieberman -- director of the University of California-Santa Barbara's Health Games Research program -- noted that online games could create "tensions between colleagues." She said, "It could be a bit of a feeling like, 'They're manipulating me'" (Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 5/1).

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