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Align Your Incentives With Long-term Healthy Behaviors

September 22, 2010 / Employee Engagement

Employees are two to four times more likely to join their company’s wellness program if incentives are included, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study. Makes sense, right? If employees are going to get something for joining, they’re more likely to do it. But for incentives to work, to actually help improve employee health – which is the goal of good health and wellness programs – they should align with ongoing employee behavior.

Too often, employers define incentives as a free t-shirt or a discounted gym membership to sign up for a program. Problem is, employees join, get the free stuff, and call it quits. Another popular incentive is a one-time cash reward for taking a health-risk assessment. Of course the employees appreciated the hundred bucks they got for filling it out, but did it really do anything to impact the long-term health of that company’s workforce? Likely not. HRAs are important, but it can’t stop there.

If employees participate in a program where their continued, ongoing behavior is what gets them more and more rewards, that’s the program that’s going to work. Dispensing  incentives over time, giving employees something to keep striving for, using “the more you do, the more you earn” approach will reinforce the fact that only with sustained healthy behavior comes long-term health benefits and cost savings. Let me give you an example of how we’ve seen this approach work.

La.-based Ochsner Health System implemented the Virgin HealthMiles program in late 2008. Employees could earn significant discounts on their health insurance premiums and cash rewards as they reached key program milestones, which are based upon recognized health standards and proven science from the CDC about weekly activity requirements. Today 81% are participating in the program.  What’s more, 89% of enrolled employees have improved their BMI or maintained healthy BMIs and 82% have lowered or maintained a healthy blood pressure.

I say rather than handing out money to get your employees to do something once, combine all of your separate programs and incentives in one comprehensive program that engages employees in adopting healthy lifestyle habits.  You’ll increase employee engagement, get more from your incentives budget, and be more agile in adapting your incentives to changing business needs.

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