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The Best Incentives for Wellness Programs

by  ANGELA STOKES
author image Angela Stokes
Angela Stokes received her Master of Science in health promotion management from the American University in Washington, D.C., focusing her studies on health policy and corporate health, including prevention and wellness. Stokes also holds a Bachelor of Science in human resources management with a minor in economics.
The Best Incentives for Wellness Programs
The Best Incentives for Wellness Programs Photo Credit: william87/iStock/GettyImages

Worksite wellness programs have a lot to offer both employers and employees. Companies that have organized a wellness program cite benefits like lower health care costs, reduced absenteeism, higher productivity, reduced workers' comp and disability-related costs, and improved morale and loyalty, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

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To boost interest and participation, incentivizing the wellness program can lead to further cost savings. These incentives are correlated with higher participation in the program by some 20 percent, according to research by RAND Corporation. They also found that larger incentives aren't necessarily more effective; and that the threat of penalties can actually have a more powerful affect than rewards.

While the wellness program itself will go a long way toward creating a healthier and more productive workforce, implementing an incentive program to go along with it will ensure greater participation and success.

Financial Incentives

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (better known as the ACA or Obamacare), employers can incentivize employees, when tied to participation in a wellness program, up to 30 percent of the total cost of coverage. Financial incentives—giving cash for participation or reaching goals—increased participation at one large employer by 55%, and another study found that incentive programs that paid above $100 saw a 51% increase in participation.

Examples of financial incentives include:

  • Health insurance premium reductions
  • Smaller deductibles
  • Contributions to health savings or flexible spending accounts (FSA) accounts
  • Cash bonus for enrollment in educational programs or classes
  • Cash bonus for completing these programs or classes, like smoking cessation

StayWell Health Management reports incentive payments of $10 to $1,000 per employee annually, with $100 to $200 being a more likely average. RAND cited $100 as a common threshold, and EBRI cited $240.

Inspiring Gifts

It's possible to incentivize healthy behaviors with inexpensive gifts that feel valuable and support the lifestyle. Boost team spirit, morale, and put something useful in your employees' hands by ordering bulk branded items.

Some examples include:

  • Water bottles
  • Travel mugs
  • Pedometers
  • Exercise bands or stress balls
  • Yoga mats
  • T-shirts, hats, or bags

Here are some other gift ideas that won't break your budget, or may even feel more inspired than cash. These still offer a high level of value to wellness program participants:

  • Grocery store gift cards
  • Sporting goods gift cards
  • Movie, concert or sport event tickets
  • Chair massages for the office
  • Gym memberships
  • Tech gadgets or devices
  • Race entry fees

Workplace Policies

Also consider making simple changes to workplace policies, which can be used as incentives and are virtually cost-free to implement.

Some examples include:

  • Flexible scheduling to better accommodate physical activity
  • Routine yoga sessions on site
  • Company-sponsored fitness or nutrition classes
  • Company-sponsored teams at 5Ks or similar events
  • Cater a healthy lunch weekly or monthly for participants
  • Remove soda machines; edit the inventory of vending machines
  • Install purified water service or kiosks
  • Provide complimentary fresh fruit in the break room or cafeteria

Sometimes, nothing more than a little recognition is required. Be sure to celebrate the big and small successes of your wellness program participants. This can be done through company newsletters, bulletin boards, team meetings, or company events. The most important thing managers can do is to participate in the wellness activities to set an example to employees that their participation is supported.

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