Activision Blizzard pays its employees to monitor their health

Publisher claims practice is mutually beneficial amid privacy concerns

Activision Blizzard is one of a growing number of companies that pays its staff to monitor their health.

According to a Washington Post report, Activision began incentivising employees to track their health in 2014 by encouraging staff to monitor physical activity using Fitbits.

It has since expanded the scheme to include voluntary tracking for mental health, sleep, diet, autism, cancer care and pregnancy.

Milt Ezzard, vice president of global benefits for Activision Blizzard, said the services in its “well-being platform” saved the company roughly $1,200 per employee in annual medical costs.

While some Activision staff were initially concerned by the introduction of the health tracking measures, Ezzard said employees have become more comfortable with the idea over time.

“Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry: ‘You’re prying into our lives,’” he said. “But we slowly increased the sensitivity of stuff, and eventually people understood it’s all voluntary, there’s no gun to your head, and we’re going to reward you if you choose to do it.

“People’s sensitivity has gone from, ‘Hey, Activision Blizzard is Big Brother,’ to, ‘Hey, Activision Blizzard really is bringing me tools that can help me out,’” he added.

Activision event planner Diana Diller, who was interviewed for the report, said the Call of Duty publisher paid her $1 a day in gift cards to use a popular pregnancy tracking app called Ovia.

Activision pays the app’s maker to use a special version of its product that relays aggregated user data to its human resource department.

App users are encouraged to log a wealth of sensitive data, including information about their sleep, diet, mood and weight, and when they had sex if they’re trying to conceive.

Much of this information is only viewable by the user, but employers receive access to “de-identified” data including the average time it takes women to conceive, the percentage who have high-risk pregnancies, how much maternity leave they plan to take, and medical questions they research.

Ezzard said about 50 Activision employees are “active” Ovia users at any given time.

“I want them to have a healthy baby because it’s great for our business experience,” he said. “Rather than having a baby who’s in the neonatal ICU, where she’s not able to focus much on work.”

While Activision claims employee health monitoring is mutually beneficial, saving it money on medical costs while keeping staff healthy and remunerated, the practice has understandably raised concern among some health and privacy advocates.

Deborah C. Peel, a psychiatrist and founder of the Texas non-profit organisation Patient Privacy Rights, told The Washington Post pregnancy tracking was “very disturbing”.

“There’s so much discrimination against mothers and families in the workplace, and they can’t trust their employer to have their best interests at heart,” she said.