Effective Employee Incentives Helps Boost Wellness Program Participation

by: Nichole Gunn July 15, 2011

There’s an expression, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ This is the dilemma that employers are currently facing in regard to health and wellness programs and employee participation.

Employers use employee wellness programs as a strategy to nip workforce health issues in the bud, before serious health issues take root and take a larger bite out of business related healthcare costs. But, getting the staff on board can be challenging. Employees who don’t suffer with health concerns, don’t see the need to invest time and effort in programs that don’t seem to offer them any ‘now’ benefits.’

These challenges along with potentially high implementation costs may deter businesses from moving forward with corporate wellness programs. However, analyzing the pros and cons of these programs can provide insight into their real value.

American Century Investments, located in Kansas City and a proponent of employee wellness for almost 20 years, spoke with the Kansas City Star. The company’s benefits and human resource operations manager Melissa Campbell explained, “Trying to measure cost avoidance is hard (because) it's not what we saved, it's what costs we didn't incur."

Chief executive of SRA Benefits Jim Clayalso also spoke with the paper, “We know if we can move people to a lower health risk category, we're going to save money." SRA is a brokerage consulting firm.

Putting the adage ‘two heads are better than one’ to practical use, 17 Kansas City ‘big’ employers united to form the Kansas City Collaborative. The group expects this union to calculate the benefits of employee incentives and wellness programs and provide more comprehensive picture. While there is no data available yet, the Collaborative is examining both healthcare expenses and worker incentives to better grasp which program strategies are the most effective.

One strategy that seems to be popular is to reward employees who use company strategies to move toward a healthy lifestyle – those employees are given a reduction in the amount they pay for insurance premiums. The news source cites three examples of companies using effective employee participation motivators:

American Century employees who do no more than take health-risk assessments can cut their insurance premium, based on single coverage, by $120. Sprint employees who are non-smokers receive reduced insurance premiums of about $20 per pay check.

Cerner employees can earn as much as $700 worth of cost-savings via a points-based incentive program. This program consists of yearly flu shots, weight-loss strategies, exercise programs, cholesterol monitoring, and health-risk assessments.

For businesses that cannot afford these types of financial incentives, or are trying to cut incentive budget expenses there are other initiatives that can be just as effective. Paid time off, as well as gift cards/certificates are incentives employees hold in high regard, according to a recent Harvard School of Public Health study.