Drive Positive Wellness Results With Incentives

We've all done it - told our kids they'll be able to play video games after they finish their homework, tried to get friends to help us move furniture by plying them with the promise of free pizza afterward, persuaded someone to drive out of his or her way in exchange for gas money. Why is this tactic so widespread and successful? The answer is simple: People tend to respond positively when presented with incentives.

So, how can companies parlay this principle of human nature into enhancing their bottom lines while simultaneously improving the health of their workforce and bolstering employee loyalty and engagement? There are a few strategies that may work for them.

'Do X, get Y'

To give workers a reason to select and/or stick with employer-based healthcare coverage during benefits enrollment, some companies offer their employees the chance to get a better deal if they participate in corporate wellness programs. By agreeing to undergo a health screening, fill out a questionnaire about their lifestyles and medical backgrounds, take part in company-organized activities with other members of the workforce and participate in work-based initiatives such as weight loss challenges, employees can qualify for lower prices on their premiums and even earn cash rewards or gift cards.

'Do X, get Z'

Like the first strategy, the "Do X, get Z" approach is based on the promise of something good at the end of the tunnel, but the "Z" reward isn't generally as obvious or direct as its "Y" equivalent. When deploying this approach, you have to work a little harder to find something that will motivate a person on an individual level.

"Losing weight in and of itself may not mean anything to an obese person, but being able to walk without feeling joint pain may be very meaningful," wrote health coach Anne Herman in employee Benefit News' Employee Benefit Views.

This is where one-on-one health coaching can be useful, as mentors can determine and use individual workers' motivations to spur them toward becoming healthier.

"Trusting relationships with health coaches can inspire lasting motivation and provide guidance that activates both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation," Herman concluded.

'Do X or else'

Unlike the first two programs, this one is based on penalties rather than incentives. The motivation here lies in avoiding an undesirable outcome rather than making an effort to achieve a positive result. This approach takes two forms: Employees either risk losing something good that they already have or miss out on gaining a new reward.

An example of this approach hit the headlines recently when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Honeywell International in October over an announcement that the company's employees would be penalized if they or their spouses refused to comply with biometric testing that formed a component of its corporate wellness program. As Reuters reported, a judge rejected the EEOC's claim that Honeywell had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

What do the numbers say?

A survey conducted by EBN in June of this year revealed that benefits administrators, human resources professionals and managers believe corporate health and wellness programs work best when paired with incentives and/or penalties.

Among the nearly 250 professionals who took part in the study, four in 10 said they had used positive or negative reinforcement related to health insurance premiums, while nearly half reported offering cash or gift cards to reward participation and progress.

How do you motivate your employees to take part in wellness programs? Which approaches have you tried, and which generated the highest degree of success?