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The Power of Wellness Incentives: When You Reward Good Health, Employees Respond Positively

Wellness programs have proved their value in the workplace. Healthier employees spend less money on healthcare and employers understand that investing in their wellness is important. It's not surprising, then, that the number of companies adding wellness programs is growing. These companies are also exploring new ways to improve program results by increasing employee participation. The healthier employees become, the greater the cost savings on healthcare and absenteeism. However, participation is vital to achieving the organization's return on investment. So the next logical question is, what can employers do to encourage high participation rates in their company wellness program?

Changing employee behavior is not always easy and the method employers choose to approach the issue needs to be appropriate for their specific audience. For instance, mandating employee participation is not an encouraged method. Employees will likely resent the change and as a result employee satisfaction will likely decrease. Fortunately, there are many other methods to increase participation. Incentives have shown to be one of the most effective ways to achieve high participation rates.

To successfully promote participation and healthy behavior changes, employers should put employees in a position to gain or achieve something tangible. Plenty of people want to lose weight, quit smoking, or reduce stress. However, those goals often seem out of reach. Offering an incentive – such as a fifty dollar gift card for following a wellness program for a set period of time or an extra paid vacation day for achieving a specific priority health goal – presents an attainable goal with a tangible reward. In essence, incentives provide the vividly orange and very delectable carrot at the end of the stick.
A well-designed incentive program conveys a positive commitment from the employer to the employee. Employees need to know you care about their health and you're willing to do whatever it takes to not only get them healthy but keep them that way.

While an incentive is likely to increase participation, positive behavior change, and follow-through; employers need to be careful to choose the appropriate incentive for their employees. Often employers reduce insurance premiums as an incentive. However, employers must tread lightly with a health insurance-based incentive, to ensure equal access to health insurance and equal opportunity to participate.

Another common incentive program is one in which employees receive points for exercise activities they pursue outside of work. Employees track their activity aiming toward some milestone at which they receive a prize. This creates a fun and motivating experience where employees can track their progress and see their results.

Wellsource offers two programs for tracking physical activity. With GetFit Adventures™, employees can travel the world (virtually, of course) as they log minutes, steps, or miles toward their chosen adventure. Built-in reporting features make it easy for wellness program administrators to offer certificates and rewards. Some companies use the team competition concept to motivate activity. Others use a "group travel" theme where employees challenge themselves.

Health Activity Tracker™ is an online exercise and nutrition log that makes it simple for employees to report – and get wellness credits for – healthy behaviors. The wellness program administrator can add health practices and other goals and assign point-values for them, and can easily see who qualifies for rewards.

Gift cards are a successful incentive as well. They allow employees to choose the reward that best suits their interest and will be most motivating to them. Gift cards take the guesswork out of selecting the proper incentive and give employees power over their reward. In addition, many gift card incentive programs offer branding and customization options to the employer. Imagine a gift card which comes branded with your company logo. Better yet, imagine it is automatically shipped to your employees, on your letterhead, with your custom message. Gift card incentive companies are making motivating and rewarding your employees easy and efficient. You can read about a newly offered gift card – the American Express gift card – in this issue of WellnessRx.

Other incentive ideas include paid time off, t-shirts, mugs, gym bags, sports clothing, and praise in the company newsletter. Regardless of the incentive you choose, remember that you are trying to communicate to your employees that you care about their health and are ready to partner with them to ensure they meet their goals. A well-aimed incentive can tell them just that!

– Marion M. Olsen, MBA, Director of Marketing, Wellsource, Inc.

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