Listen to my Heart – the relationship between workplace wellness and heartbeat variability

22 Feb Listen to my Heart – the relationship between workplace wellness and heartbeat variability

Corporate wellness programs are becoming progressively more popular among employers as a way of reducing costs related to employee unhealth. Studies have shown that for every single dollar invested in wellness, medical costs are reduced by three dollars (Baicker, 2010). Employees who feel healthier tend to be more productive; take fewer days off sick; and are less likely to retire early. On the other hand, employees who are stressed make more errors and are generally less effective.  Ideally a wellness program will include all your employees, will address all important health risks, and will target the workplace environment.

The link between lifestyle and well-being is established. The lack of proper physical activity, poor nutrition, smoking, excessive alcohol intake and other adverse lifestyle choices lead to a range of chronic diseases and many premature deaths. One goal of any corporate wellness program is to help employees avoid poor lifestyle choices and encourage right lifestyle choices. Ideally it will help individual employees manage stress, improve personal recovery, and enjoy the right amount of exercise; in other words, to discover the right balance between work, leisure and sleep.

Over recent years, wearable devices have been gaining popularity as a way of monitoring fitness. They are able to track movement, monitor heart rate and blood pressure, and detect when the wearer is asleep. Some can also monitor body temperature, respiration rate and blood oxygen levels (sats).  In 2014, 70 million wearable devices were sold, and it is anticipated that 130 million will be shipped in 2018 (Juniper Research 2013). Data gathered from such devices can readily be moved to the cloud where it can be stored and analyzed.

By focusing on just one of these measures, and, the heartbeat, we can discover a great deal about the body. The beats of our hearts are rarely constant; they are always varying. Each time we breathe in and breath out; each time we take exercise and recover from it; when we experience stress; when we relax; and even when we think, the rates of our heartbeats vary (Teisala et al. 2014). Thus, by carefully listening to our hearts we can analyze all the factors that contribute to our overall wellness, and use this information to work towards our personal and work related goals.

Taken in the context of the workplace, data from such devices can be used to improve corporate wellness, making the workplace a safer and more productive environment. Worn at work they can be used to monitor stress levels of employees, their levels of fatigue when operating equipment; and other work related behaviors; worn at home they can provide information on sleep patterns, exercise and recovery. The overall result is enhanced employee wellbeing, improved productivity, and a reduction in work related injuries.

The potential is huge; but there are also challenges. Clearly employers must have consent from employees who participate in these programs. The consent must also be valid in that the employee must not feel pressurized to give it. A recent survey found that up to 56% of employees would be happy to use wearable devices if the information would be used to improve their wellbeing at work (Pwc, 2015) and this rose to 70% for the millennial generation.

Although this is encouraging, there remains a significant proportion of employees who would resent what they consider an intrusion on their privacy. There is trust gap that employers will need to fill before such technologies could be deployed across the wider workforce. In the interim, there are huge benefits for those employees who embrace such an approach to corporate wellness.



Baicker K, Cutler D, and Song Z.,2010, Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings. Health Affairs. 29(2) 304-311

Juniper Research, 2013,

Pwc. 2015, Half of people would use a workplace smartwatch,

Teisala et al. 2014, Associations of physical activity, fitness, and body composition with heart rate variability-based indicators of stress and recovery on workdays: a cross-sectional study, Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology.

Pwc. 2015, Half of people would use a workplace smartwatch,

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