Employee Benefits

Carrots or Sticks: Which Works Best for Employee Wellness Programs?

Employee Wellness Programs

Do employees need carrots or sticks to encourage them to adopt healthy lifestyle habits? That’s the quandary many employers tackle when deciding whether to offer incentives and rewards to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs.

Intention vs. action
Most people like the thought of working out and becoming healthier, but they struggle to make time for it. Or, they find that the desire to eat healthy food fades when faced with a choice between salad and pizza.

Mix carrots and sticks
Wellness experts advise that a mix of carrots and sticks are necessary for successful wellness programs. Consider these ideas for carrots to reward employees who consistently meet health goals:

  • Incremental discounts on fitness membership costs that employees can earn as they complete health benchmarks with the goal of earning a free membership
  • Gift cards, cash or financial contributions to a flexible spending account for completion of set goals
  • Discounts on nutritious meals at the workplace cafeteria or restaurant serving healthy foods.
  • Awards for employees who engage in coaching programs or reach final goals
  • Reduced costs for health insurance premiums
  • Gifts, incentives or perks, such as time off, free lunch or new fitness attire, to reward positive lifestyle changes

Employers would rather celebrate wellness victories than punish non-achievers, but sometimes sticks are needed to motivate employees who choose not to make healthy lifestyle changes. Here are three ideas:

  • Decreased employer contributions to health care premiums for consistent non-participation.
  • Charge a fee to employees with a chronic health condition who decide not to pursue treatment or take prescribed medications.
  • Host exclusive activities only for employees who make positive lifestyle changes.

The New York Times reports that the Affordable Care Act allows employers to nudge employees toward healthy behaviors, but also requires participation to be voluntary. Employers can provide richer incentives for employees who engage in wellness programs and charge fees or higher premiums for employees who don’t.

Many employers are focusing on employee well-being, which encompasses both engagement and wellness programs to retain and recruit great workers. Watch this video interview with Dr. Jim Harter of Gallup.


Business Management Daily