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Corporate Wellness

Why Incentives are Better than Scare Tactics in Employee Well-Being Programs

There’s a lot of buzz about the carrot versus the stick approach when it comes to how to use incentives with employee well-being programs (i.e. rewarding employees for participation versus penalizing those who don’t). While it’s true that both approaches (and even a blend of the two) could very well have a place in your incentives strategy, you first and foremost need to consider what’ll work best in your workplace. What are you trying to accomplish? What’s your culture like and does your selected incentives approach align with it?

These are all critical questions to think through, and the answers will be different from organization to organization. Before you select your approach, be sure to bear in mind how your employees will perceive it. For example, an employer could implement a well-meant program tactic, but not communicate its benefits understandably. As a result, employees could misunderstand the intention and effort, and potentially view the efforts as scare tactics vs. incentives. While some companies choose to charge less-healthy employees more for health insurance in an attempt to motivate them to improve their health, when not well communicated, employees could view this effort as the organization is being too nosy, or worse, discriminatory. If your employees perceive your efforts as punishment for not participating in your well-being program, that could potentially negatively impact your organization’s relationship with them and your well-intended well-being program won’t yield the results you’re ultimately looking to drive. And beyond that, there are things like employee satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty at stake. Consider how all those things might be impacted in your organization if your employees felt you didn’t care about them?

One thing to keep in mind when deciding how to position incentives in your well-being program: employee well-being should be a priority first and foremost because it’s good for your workforce, and what’s good for your workforce will be good for your business. Taking care of your employees and showing them their well-being matters to your organization makes them healthier, happier, and less stressed—all of the things that allow them to put their best foot forward on the job and be more productive at work.

One of the best ways to drive participation in your employee well-being program is by taking a culture-first mentality, and rewarding meaningful healthy behavior change with incentives. Here are a few tips on how to use incentives to get your employees excited about participating in your well-being program and making those healthy behavior changes you’d like to see:

  • Make them meaningful: If you want to drive real, long-lasting behavior change, use incentives that have real value to your employees. Offering extra time off, technology upgrades, cash rewards or even a nice meal out really sweetens the deal and helps drive employees’ engagement in your program.
  • Show the love: Incentives don’t all need to be monetary. Old-fashioned encouragement and shout outs give employees a great boost, too. Boosting a person’s morale can be as easy as recognizing a wellness achievement in a team email, at a meeting, on posters changed monthly on the company’s busiest floor, or on a VIP board in the kitchen for employees who are hitting their healthy goals.
  • Remember the tortoise and the hare: You don’t want to blow your incentives budget on just getting people enrolled in your program only to have them drop off. Offering steady incentives throughout your program is key to keeping participation up. By rewarding employees for all their steps and progress along the way helps keep the momentum going.

When you create a workplace where employees feel they’re cared about, valued and rewarded for their efforts, you’re more likely to create a workforce full of energetic, focused and driven employees who are more productive and thriving both at work and in life.

Want to know more about how incentives can help employees get and stay engaged in your well-being program? Check out this paper “Changing Behavior for Good: Wellness Incentives’ Role in Driving Change.”

Margaux Novak, Marketing Communications Manager, manages public relations and social media at Virgin Pulse. Merging her knack for reading everything in sight with her slight risk-taker tendencies, she’s always up for trying out newly researched marketing campaigns. Apart from this, Margaux is an avid traveler, photographer, and publishing poet. Follow her on twitter: @margauxnovak