How to Think Big and Beyond Incentives for Your Wellness Program

June 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment

Are incentives the driving force of your employee wellness programs? If your answer is yes, you’re not alone—but that’s not necessarily good news.

Certainly incentives are more popular than ever among employers, especially as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has begun helping employers to recoup more of these costs. However, according to the fifth annual Workplace Wellness Study from Optum Resource Center for Health & Wellbeing, incentives alone—whether cash or in other forms—have questionable impact in sustaining long-term behavioral change. The group advises aligning incentives with programs and actions that will help you achieve your overall strategic goals.

The Optum study surveyed 500 HR professionals from small, medium and large companies across the country about their approach wellness and health management solutions. It found that more than 81 percent of employers presently offer incentives, an increase from two years ago (74 percent). Large employers are most likely to offer incentives (85 percent) compared with mid-sized (76 percent) and small firms (72 percent). Survey respondents spent an average of $167 per participant per year on incentives, with contributions to health savings account or health reimbursement accounts being the most popular offering.

Incentives can work, and are a strong motivator for employees striving to reach certain health-related goals. But instead of focusing on incentives alone, these tools should be part of a broader approach to wellness that looks well beyond how health impacts your company’s insurance costs.

“There is much more to engagement than incentives alone,” commented Seth A. Serxner, MPH, PhD, chief health officer and senior vice president of Population Health, Optum, during a webinar on the study results. He offered a “big picture” approach that incorporates strong communications and a culture that supports engagement, hand in hand with incentives.

Going further, Serxner proposed that companies rethink incentives as just one facet of an all-around broader look at what employee “wellbeing” really means. Is good health really your employee’s end goal? Or is it simply the means to an end to a big picture goal, such as being able to care for family or being a valued and contributing member of the community or simply being happy?

Taken in that regard, it becomes evident that the end-goal is really the incentive. Communicate with your employees to understand how typically incentivized programs, such as health assessments or fitness challenges, can help them to reach these important life goals.
And according to “The Business of Healthy Employees 2014: A Survey of Workplace Health Priorities,” a Virgin Pulse-sponsored survey of more than 350 companies and 3,800 employees, your workers want to be healthy. The vast majority (96.3 percent) of employees reported that they participate in wellness programs to improve their own health, making improved health a bigger motivator than financial incentives.
Of course, providing motivation along the way—such as rewarding for a specific health outcome, as Optum says more employees (42 percent) are doing—can help employees achieve the short-term health goals along their path even as you set your company up as a caring and supportive environment, a highly attractive quality for future recruits, as the Virgin Pulse survey reports.

Need your own incentive to get started? There’s no better time to start turning your wellness program around than National Employee Wellness Month.

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