5 Steps to Creating an Effective Wellness Incentive Program

by Jennifer Gregory

2 min read

Most of us know the importance of healthy lifestyle habits, but sometimes we need a nudge to get us off the couch. If your employees take frequent smoke breaks, struggle to make fitness a priority, or use a lot of sick days, it might be time to provide them with a few wellness incentives.

According to a 2011 study by Incentive Research Foundation, only one in five employees will participate in a wellness program without rewards; however, four out of five people will join when incentives are offered.

Here are five steps to creating an effective wellness incentive program for your employees:

1. Determine the wellness needs of your staff. Think about your staff members and the specific health issues they struggle with. Do they complain about not finding time to work out? Do they have access to a workout facility at the office? Do you see them eating fast food at their desk to meet deadlines? If you are unsure what their priorities are, ask them for feedback or send out a survey.

2. Provide tools that enable success. No matter how many gift cards or free lunches you provide, your employees will achieve the most success if you first help solve the obstacles in their way. Businesses without a workout facility on-site can offer a gym membership as a benefit. If your staff works long hours or juggles family obligations, offer to give each employee two to three hours a week to exercise during the workday. Consider paying for a portion of weight-loss programs, such as Weight Watchers, or sponsoring employees who want to enroll in a smoking cessation program.

3. Choose valued incentives. If you offer rewards that no one is interested in, then your wellness incentive program will not have the desired results. In her recent Benefits Magazine article “Wellness Incentive Strategies That Work,” Kristie Zoeller Howard writes: “To get employees to take action, employers need to offer rewards that are valued by most, if not all, participants.” She adds that the most valued incentives are cash, merchandise gift cards, and benefit-integrated incentives, such as additional paid time off or decreased health insurance contributions.

4. Set attainable goals for receiving the incentive. Let’s say the majority of your staff does not exercise regularly, but your program is set up to reward people who exercise five times a week for three months. Your incentives program is likely to fail. Consider your staff’s current status and structure goals that will push them to change their behaviors in a realistic way. Some companies find that offering a points-based incentive program, in which employees earn points for different activities (such as working out, attending a seminar, or taking a smoking cessation class), offers the most flexibility for staff at different wellness levels.

5. Evaluate the program. Before rolling out any program, ask for feedback from your employees. Based on their input, make any changes that will help increase participation. Once the incentive plan is in place, monitor participation on an ongoing basis and make adjustments as needed to encourage your employees to adopt healthier lifestyles.

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