Inspiring Workplace Wellness With Incentives

By Fitbit Wellness

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Wellness programs in the workplace share a legacy that spans more than a century in the United States, stretching back to as early as the late 1870s when the Pullman Co. started an athletic program for its employees. In recent decades, concepts of corporate wellness have shifted. Typically a large-scale focus on disease management, corporate wellness has expanded to encompass more than just cost savings.

"I think that people over the past five to seven years have come to understand that wellness provides a benefit to work productivity, which ultimately has an effect on the bottom line," says Fitbit Wellness Vice President and General Manager Amy McDonough.

Productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism, and the ability to acquire and retain employees are all factors to consider when it comes to the benefits of corporate wellness programs -- and they are the kinds of benefits to which McDonough refers.

"It also has an impact on the general happiness of employees," she says. "And that can be used for a lot of different things . . . expanding our vision from the traditional idea of return on investment to value on investment -- a way to contribute to the overall value of the organization."

Even as the underlying reasons for creating and maintaining corporate-wellness programs have evolved, there has always been a through line within the narrative. Successful programs are still deeply reliant upon engagement. The challenge of attracting and retaining employee participation is a constant.

To meet that challenge, corporate-wellness managers are focusing upon incentives -- from coupons to prizes, cash rewards and beyond.

"If done correctly, [incentives are] an excellent way to reach out and engage employees," says Vik Khanna, a St. Louis-based health benefits consultant and co-author of the e-book Surviving Workplace Wellness, speaking to members of the Society for Human Resource Management. "Employers must be respectful of their employees and find ways [to] engage and energize them."

Beyond established models for rewards, however, companies are seeking new ways to leverage the power of friendly competition and a sense of community around well-being and positive health decisions. And they are looking to further personalize wellness program experiences for all participants.

Making Connections: Engagement and Incentives

Corporate wellness programs are well on the way to wide-scale adoption across business verticals. For example, according to Gallup Business Journal, more than 85 percent of U.S. organizations with 1,000 or more employees already have a wellness program in place. The attendant challenge that corporations face, in particular, comes in the form of winning employee participation and then retaining those participants over time.

Such statistics may be a hard pill to swallow for some business leaders, especially those that are spending $50 to $150 annually per employee within a typical corporate-wellness program, according to Gallup.

Another factor in play? The incentives around which corporate-wellness programs are built. Beyond a trend, incentives have become the participation strategy for the majority of companies.

"The good news is that incentives appear to produce improved engagement in some wellness programs," wrote Prashant Srivastava, in a recent Corporate Wellness Magazine report. "The bad news is that employers are spending more and more to get those results."

Alongside this increase, however, is a counterbalancing strategy. That is, incentives don't have to be expensive, and other kinds of rewards can gain traction among employees.

Best Practices: Looking to the Future of Corporate Wellness

Among the keys to best practices for wellness program managers is to find the fulcrum between financial incentives and recognition. "I think there are two goals," says McDonough. "One, when it comes to the end user[s], the employee[s] . . . is that the incentive is meaningful to them even if it's not meaningful in terms of a dollar value.

"On the other side, for the company," she continues, "the goal is to find ways to tie the incentive back to the behaviors you're trying to promote. If your goal is to have a happier, healthier workforce, and you're going to give [workers] a $50 gift card for [participating] in a competition, but then you give them a gift card to an all-you-can-eat special, that doesn't help with your incentives and your goals."

The next horizon lies at the point where leaders help employees understand the real-time impact of wellness programs upon their bodies and their individual, specific health profiles.


Oct 2, 2015
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