Whether it’s a participation trophy, a blue ribbon or just a pat on the back, everyone likes to receive praise for a job well done. Research has shown that workplace productivity increases after the launch of an incentive program, and now many companies are using similar programs to motivate their employees to live healthier lives.
The Rise of Wellness Programs
Workplace wellness programs seek to encourage employees to adopt healthier, more active lifestyles by offering incentives to increase interest and participation. These programs have increased in popularity in recent years. According to a survey by National Business Group on Health (NBGH), 97% of employers offer a health risk assessment, biometric screening or other wellness program.
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A Variety of Incentives
Incentives can range from gift cards to reduced health care premiums to public recognition. While monetary incentives are still popular, other types of rewards can motivate as well.
“Increasingly the employee perks are not always financial,” explains Shannon Welch, Product Manager of BlueHealth Rewards for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “While the rewards could be a contribution to a health reimbursement account or paid time off, employers are getting more creative with intrinsic rewards specific to their organization. One popular BlueHealth Rewards pilot (program) ran last year at a hospital where employees could pick their on-call partner if they participated in specific wellness challenges.”
There are multiple benefits of employee wellness incentive programs:
Improved Employee Health
Healthier employees mean more productive, happier employees. According to the NBGH survey, employees use 70% fewer sick days if they’re participating in wellness programs compared to those who opt out. When the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) collected responses from 380 human resources professionals of different-sized organizations, 76% rated their incentives as being very effective at improving the health of their employees.
Increased Employee Retention
Job seekers like to work for organizations that seem committed to their employees’ health and wellbeing. A study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health found a connection between wellness programs and decreased employee turnover. Wellness programs can also have a positive impact on how employees perceive workplace culture. A survey conducted by Virgin HealthMiles found that 77% of employees believe that wellness programs positively impact the culture at work.
Lower Health Care Costs
Though wellness programs can be an investment, they often pay off in health care savings. Healthier employees get sick less often which results in lower health care expenses, such as doctor’s visits, prescriptions, procedures and hospitalizations. An analysis by Health Affairs found that, as of 2010, medical costs fell approximately $3.27 and absenteeism costs fell by about $2.73 for every dollar invested in wellness programs.
Welch points to a specific BlueHealth Rewards program through one of BlueCross’ larger groups that sought to reduce diabetes among its employee population.
“At-risk employees were required to work regularly with a health coach for a total yearly premium reduction reward of $1,200,” she explained. “If they didn’t call in or [if they] hung up, they stood to leave a lot of money on the table.”
Implementing a wellness program can take time and resources, but a company dedicated to health often reaps the benefits with healthier, happier employees.
For employers: Wellness programs are regulated by federal and state law. Consult your legal counsel before implementing any program component.