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Is your health and wellness program coercive?

As corporate health and wellness programs become the norm for many large organizations today, the question isn’t whether or not to offer a program, but how to get employees to participate. We all know implementing a wellness program can lead to lowered healthcare costs and healthier, more productive employees, but achieving that goal is impossible if you can’t get people to participate.

But at what point does encouraging engagement become forced participation? A recent NPR article highlighted the proposed rule by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that seeks to draw the line between the two. For program managers who are struggling with engagement, here are a couple tacks you might want to consider:

Use the carrot, not the stick

Penalizing employees for not participating undermines employee loyalty and trust in an organization. Not only will employees feel forced into participation, but the organization comes across as being more concerned about reducing its costs than truly caring about the well-being of its employees. Rather than docking an employee’s pay for not completing a task, (i.e. getting a cholesterol screening), consider offering healthier snack options or a tangible reward to celebrate completion of a goal.

Which brings us to…

Tangible Incentives

Current healthcare laws limit the maximum reward for wellness program participation to 30% of the total cost of coverage. According to the NPR article, the national average for healthcare coverage is about $6025, putting the maximum benefit at around $1800. You’d think that earning that 30% in cash incentives would be a great motivator for participation, but a blind study we conducted of roughly 1,000 participants and 500 eligible non-participants revealed that tangible incentives like a Fitbit, new clothing, or travel experiences were far more effective motivators than cash. In fact, 88% of eligible non-participants surveyed said that offering one or more tangible incentives in a wellness program would increase their interest in participating.

What are your incentives costing you?

To that end, offering incentives your employees actually want also will probably cost you less than going the route of cash incentives. As you research rewards partners, you might want to look at vendors that can offer a wide breadth of rewards offerings, which gives them better buying power (less than the face value of the reward, and often deeper discounts apply the more you buy) and brings even more savings to the organization.

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