A workplace health promotion program can only succeed if people participate, and offering incentives is a proven method of encouraging participation.15-19 A growing body of research suggests that incentives can increase enrollment, participation and completion of wellness programs.19-21 Incentives designed to increase health risk assessments and programs are often related to health insurance costs (e.g., lower medical premiums or access to a more generous benefit plan), but they can be as simple as offering public recognition for health improvement acheivements.6,19 An appropriate incentive should be sufficiently high to matter and be noticed by workers but not so high that it appears coercive. Recent reviews noted that annual financial incentives to promote participation were effective in the range of $152 to $557.15,19,22
It is also important to consider whether your company’s employees would better respond to rewards, penalties or some combination of the two.23 While some research suggests people are more motivated to avoid losses, individuals are much more receptive to rewards than penalties. The best and most long-standing incentive programs are ones where employees can earn rewards in the form of cash or lower health insurance premiums by having good health habits to begin with, making strides in improving their health and achieving certain outcomes that they set for themselves, often with the support of a health coach.18,23,24 Establishing a legal, ethical and practical incentive program can be a great motivator for health improvement, and finding a model that is in line with the company’s culture, employee needs and organizational goals is important.
The law requires that your incentive programs must offer reasonable accommodations to employees who cannot meet standards for participation (“reasonable alternative standard” provision), for example by allowing employees in wheelchairs the opportunity to exercise 30 minutes per day in lieu of taking 10,000 steps per day.25 Appropriate goals and target levels should always be agreed to by the employee’s healthcare provider, and preferably be individualized to each employee’s needs. Various reputable organizations offer guidance to inform your implementation of workplace incentive programs, including joint industry collaborations that include the AHA.24