Employee Incentives for Wellness

Mary Gormandy White
Office Yoga

With so many companies focused on ways to keep their health insurance costs down while also boosting productivity, it's only natural for more and more organizations to offer or expand workplace wellness programs. Providing incentives to employees can be a good way to encourage participation in these programs, as well as encourage progress toward specific wellness goals. Learn about the many different ways to incentive workplace wellness so you can make an informed decision for your organization.

Wellness Incentives

According to ModaHealth.com, offering incentives is one of the best ways to motivate employees to participate in "activities that promote healthier lifestyles." Wellsource.com points out that people often want to make positive changes like giving up smoking or losing weight, but they're often just not motivated enough to do it on their own or lack confidence that they can be successful. Employer-offered incentives that "put employees in a position to gain or achieve something tangible" can be just the nudge they need to begin making positive lifestyle changes and remain focused on goal-directed progress.

Workplace-Based Choices

Incorporating wellness activities into the culture of your organization can be a great way to get employees focused on wellness. Providing recognition for those who participate can be a great motivator, and establishing health-oriented ways for employees to bond or engage in a little friendly competition can have great team-building benefits in addition to individual well-being. Ideas include:

  • Casual dress days where incentive program participants get to wear company-provided t-shirts specific to the wellness program
  • Creating "status" by such things as setting aside the farthest parking spots from the door for those who commit to increasing their daily steps with a red carpet to the entrance
  • Establishing designated parking spaces for participants in desirable areas; maybe spots near the sidewalk for those who walk at lunch or close to the exit for those who go to the gym right after work
  • Holding a special event for wellness program participants, such as a "members-only" healthy picnic or field day
  • Hold special potlucks or company-provided meals for those who've made a commitment to wellness focused solely on healthy dining selections
  • Prizes for the employee (or group of employees) who brings the best healthy meal item to a company potluck or healthy food taste-testing event
  • Recognition in the company newsletter or intranet with group or individual pictures paired with quotes from participating employees

Specialty Items

You can use promotional items with a wellness theme to encourage initial participation in company wellness initiatives, as well as to reward ongoing involvement. For example, employees might be motivated to join a lunch-hour walking group to get a free t-shirt. When they find that it's something fun to do that makes them feel better, they just might keep walking - especially if you give them a pedometer to track their progress after the first week or two. Options include:

  • Branded promotional items related to healthy eating, such as lunch bags, salad containers, blender bottles (for healthy smoothies or protein shakes), etc.
  • Company logo items specific to fitness activities such as water bottles, gym bags, yoga mats, pedometers, etc.

Activity Incentives

If you'd like to encourage members of your workforce to participate in formal fitness activities, consider that the cost of participating might be a barrier in many cases. For example, employees who like to run, but who don't have extra money might be much more likely to participate in running events if their cost of entry is paid. When they participate wearing company logo apparel, they'll become wellness ambassadors for your company in the local community. Examples include:

  • Company-paid entry fees for fitness-related events such as 5K runs, aerobathons, walkathons, etc.
  • Establish a set amount of paid "on-the-clock" time that employees can use only for working out; require timesheet notations of "wellness time"
  • Company-paid wellness activities at work, such as on-site Weight Watchers meetings, healthy cooking classes, after-hours personal training, Friday chair massage, etc.
  • Discounts on or company contributions to wellness-related products and services, such as access to corporate rates gym memberships
  • Gift closet that employees can visit when they earn a certain number of points based on participation in fitness and activities related to well-being

Financial Incentives

Funding wellness activity participation isn't the only way that financial benefits can be effective. Consider providing opportunities for employees to earn meaningful financial rewards for getting - and staying - involved with your company's wellness program. Options include:

  • Opportunities to earn "credits" that can be applied to employee costs for health insurance or supplemental benefits related to wellness (such as dental or vision care)
  • Rebates for participation in or completion of wellness programs, such as smoking cessation programs, weight management programs, etc.
  • Gift cards for reaching pre-established milestones, being sure they're for merchants appropriate to your wellness goals (i.e., don't offer pizza or doughnut gift cards)
  • Charitable giving on behalf of employees who reach established milestones, to charities of their choosing or an organization determined by the company in advance

Important Considerations

Keep in mind that while encouraging - and incentivizing - participation in wellness initiatives can be great motivation, it's not acceptable to force your employees to get involved. The key is to inspire them to want to focus on wellness, and incentives can be a great way to do just that. You just have to select the right kinds of incentives, and offer a variety sufficient enough to appeal to the different types of people in your workforce.

In Managed Healthcare Executive, co-founder and CEO of United Preference Mark Hall explains that companies need to "better tailor the incentives to fit the person, and to provide incentives that motivate while driving program ROI" (return on investment).

There are many different incentive options; the keys to choosing effective ones lie with selecting rewards that will be motivators for your workforce and that are consistent with your company's overall mission and wellness-related goals.

Employee Incentives for Wellness