Smartbeat is a young Dutch startup that uses Firstbeat Life data to coach employee well-being in corporate health programs. Before Smartbeat, founder Mark Verhaegen was a professional consultant running corporate vitality programs across several companies.
“It was always difficult to really grab the sense of vitality in an organization,” recalls Verhaegen. “There is a lot going on in companies to promote healthy lifestyles, from full-on fitness programs to fruit on tables, but I really wanted to see a data-driven approach.”
Pioneering Corporate Wellness Inspired by Firstbeat Life
Despite a well-established career, Verhaegen decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in HR management, with a focus on personnel leadership, innovation and change within organizations. As part of his research, he investigated how to introduce objectivity into the subjective nature of vitality programs within organizations.
“During that research, I learned about Firstbeat and ultimately started Smartbeat because of what Firstbeat Life can do,” says Verhaegen. “Our model is built around Firstbeat Life. Everything we do to help employees in an organization is driven by technology and data.”
In the Netherlands, “vitality” is used to refer to anything that is considered good, like a job, school or neighborhood. Vitality is much more than that when it comes to wellness. Helping employees be healthy and energetic is not just about managing stress, but raising your game and improving your capabilities.
“I see us as a pioneer with Firstbeat Life,” emphasizes Verhaegen. “Everything we do is new. We don’t have existing data in the Netherlands that tells us with certainty that if we do this, then we will achieve that. We know how to approach corporate well-being, but the data-driven coaching is per individual, and that makes it an iterative process.”
Long-Term Change Begins with Awareness
“Our goal is to help employees go from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence,” explains Verhaegen. “Living a healthy lifestyle should be easy through healthy decisions that are informed (competence) and automatic (unconscious).”
It can be difficult to give lifestyle the attention it needs. Many know they need to change their lifestyle, but facing that with facts might be hard. “People are aware that they often have too much stress,” says Verhaegen. “How to deal with it and properly recover is the hard part. Finding those moments for recovery on a daily basis is one of the key areas we work on with clients.
“Firstbeat Life measurements offer a tremendous amount of insights, but for most, they don’t know what the data means. That’s the most important part of my work so far, helping people understand what data is telling them.”
Smartbeat recently kicked off a year-long program for a Danish logistics company covering a team of 30 people. The first three months focuses on gaining awareness of daily life choices, using monthly 3-day measurement periods (at minimum).
“It is hard for people to change their behavior without seeing the impact of changes they make,” notes Verhaegen. “With Firstbeat Life, they get that needed feedback, even on small adjustments in daily activities. Weekends, for example, are typically quite busy times for people. Even though they are not working, weekends are often stressful, and Firstbeat Life shows them that. It’s a real eye-opener for many to see the impact of weekends on their body battery.”
Precise Data for Individual and Company Impact
Smartbeat emphasizes the need for customization. “Each organization has different people with different needs,” adds Verhaegen. “We always start by collecting data using Firstbeat Life. Then we use that data to plan together with management wellness and other initiatives.”
“It can be something as simple as encouraging employees taking a proper lunch break. The majority of individuals I work with don’t. They either don’t break at all, or continue to work while they eat.”
Sometimes the changes involve company culture, like meetings. “I advise companies to avoid hour-long meetings. Keep them to 50 minutes max. That ten-minute gap gives everyone time to unwind before the next meeting. Days full of back-to-back meetings are exhausting for everyone involved.”
Working with small, yet significant changes is common, but coaching can also be life changing. “I recently completed an assessment with an employee who plans on retiring in 3-4 years. His initial wellness numbers were concerning. My session with him was not about daily life, but rather the big picture. We talked about where he sees himself in a few years’ time, discussing how he can get their step by step.”
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