Personal Happiness Tech as an Employee Benefit

Apps designed to make people happy are now selling to HR

By Terena Bell April 3, 2018

​Designing apps to make people happy is an expensive game: In 2017, venture capitalists invested more than $150 million in mental wellness tech. There's now no shortage of personal software—including happiness trackers and mindfulness-based dating apps—meant to make you feel better about life. But instead of selling to individuals, many of these apps market to HR for use by the workforce. 

Nutritional-supplement manufacturer Pure Encapsulations, based in Sudbury, Mass., is one employer that's buying. "It's just as important for us that we give [employees] the tools and the resources to enhance their life experience overall," said the company's vice president, Joy Devins. " 'Personally' is just as important as 'professionally.' "

The company works with Happier, a photo-sharing app that employees use to post pictures of things they're grateful for—a habit that can help people feel more optimistic, sleep better, and be more creative, productive, and less stressed, according to the app's website. Happier CEO Nataly Kogan said employers realize stress is "at its all-time high. It's costing companies about $500 billion a year in terms of loss of productivity and health." As a result, she explained, employers' sick-leave costs and insurance premiums are rising, leaving them to look for solutions to bring those costs down. 

This may be true, but Pure Encapsulations senior director of HR Melissa McBride said that's not why they bought. "It's the right thing to do," she explained. "We're a health and wellness organization, and we should walk the walk." 

Both Happier and its largest competitor, Happify, have more clients from the health industry than any other sector. Companies that don't already have wellness at the center of their business model, Kogan said, are a harder sell: "There are companies that are still seeing employee well-being as 'not our problem.' " There are companies that are seeing employee well-being in terms of, what are the fires we need to put out? But the ones who are buying happiness tech "understand that it's a direct investment in the company's success," she said. 

Kogan doesn't disclose pricing, but Happify, which tracks users' happiness levels over time, charges a set fee per employee, per month. Founder Ofer Leidner said individual licenses cost $78 a year. Happify's flagship clients include Humana and Cigna, where nearly 10,000 employees use the tech. Users play games on the app, which Leidner said are actually short, cognitive exercises. The games measure happiness, but Leidner claimed they also improve it, using game scores to show improvement over time on users' personalized dashboards. 

At Pure Encapsulations, the money for Happier doesn't come from health benefit or employee productivity budgets but from education and development budgets. McBride says health and development are the same. "I think that mental health is very similar to leadership and engagement. I think they go hand in hand … and we should be addressing both of them from a senior HR level." 

In addition to providing the app to all staff, the company participates in Happier at Work, an add-on seminar series Kogan administers once a year. "The program lasts two days," McBride explained, and it teaches employees ways to show what she calls micro-engagement—"small things that you can do all the time to keep your day moving," like leaving notes for co-workers "telling them how great they are." 

Because employees access the app through personal phones, Pure Encapsulations doesn't know how many use the tech, but around 160 attend sessions. As far as whether it works, McBride said, "I think people are actively trying to do things that are kind and more generous." 

For clients like these, Kogan said, happiness isn't a metric to measure so much as it is "part of their business strategy. ... [Companies] are seeing that employee wellness—employee well-being—is not an extra; it is their business." 

Pure Encapsulations' Devins agreed. "Managing work stress, having happy employees—I think all of that ties in to productivity in the workplace and ROI. A positive workplace, for me, is an ROI." 

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