Six Keys to Maximize the Value of Wellness Incentive Programs

By David Roddenberry, Originally Posted on EHS Today.

The trouble with most existing wellness incentive programs is that they are poorly designed and inefficient, achieving too little reward for each dollar spent and often offending employees with a forceful Big Brother attitude that alienates the employer financing the program.

Most U.S. employers and insurers offer financial rewards (or penalties) to encourage employees to make healthy choices like losing weight and quitting smoking. These wellness incentive programs soon will become ubiquitous because the Affordable Care Act endorses them and opens the door for bigger rewards.

Some companies utilize a carrot approach, while others carry a big stick. Many wellness incentive programs include higher health care premiums to directly penalize employees who make decisions that are costly and bad for their health – e.g., smoking or maintaining an unhealthy weight. Far from being positive and rewarding, for a typical worker already struggling to be healthier on her or his own accord, these programs behave like a credit card debt that never seems to go away.  Such programs may even create anxiety that can stimulate the unhealthy behavior they’re designed to cure.

As wellness incentive programs proliferate, forward-thinking employers and insurers have discovered that taking some simple steps to create positive emotional engagement, perhaps supplemented with financial incentives, readily changes a program’s character from unwelcome authoritarianism to something participants enjoy and appreciate, thus dramatically increasing its effectiveness. In short, making wellness incentives fun and exciting leads to widespread improvement in results and a morale-boosting charge that makes a hero – rather than a villain – out of the program’s provider.

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