Promoting Wellness Takes More than Incentives

Beyond financial incentives, well-rounded programs spur participation

By Stephen Miller, CEBS May 21, 2015

With the role of financial incentives in employer-provided wellness programs currently being sorted out (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a long-awaited proposed rule for comment in April 2015), focus has fallen on ways to better engage employees in health-promotion efforts beyond paying them to participate.

A May 2015 research brief from the nonprofit Rand Corp., Incentives for Workplace Wellness Programs, offers some useful insights. Rand’s researchers found that “while incentives increase employee uptake among programs with limited services, offering a comprehensive program is almost as effective.”

The researchers compared “limited” wellness initiatives with “comprehensive” programs. The latter included a broad range of health-screening, lifestyle-improvement and disease-management services, while the former limited services across one or more of these components.

The researchers found that:

Employers that did not use incentives reported lower participation rates—a median of just 20 percent of employees.

With the use of incentives, median participation rates increased to 40 percent.

Employers offering rewards of more than $100 reported participation rates of 51 percent, compared with 36 percent for those with smaller rewards.

Employers offering comprehensive programs reported participation rates of 59 percent, and participation in these programs was less sensitive to the types of incentives provided.

Implications for Employers

“While incentives seem to be effective at increasing program uptake, they are not a panacea,” the researchers concluded. “Offering a rich, well-designed program is almost as effective at boosting employee participation rates as incentivizing employees to join more-limited ones.”

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. 

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