In his article, “Corporate Wellness Programs Make Us Unwell: An Interview with André Spicer,” Scott Berinato takes a hard look at Spicer’s claim that corporate wellness programs are failing. Spicer asserts that most programs are ineffective and ultimately make employees less healthy and more anxious.
That’s because the programs he looked at—and most programs for that matter—focus on intangible benefits. Employees who believe a wellness program is meant to make them “more attractive to their employer,” Spicer explains, feel performance anxiety and fear its effects on their employability. Similarly, companies that use “images of superfit runners and very thin and muscular people” in program collateral also see limited success. In fact, those images may actually discourage performance and participation by setting the bar too high; employees aren’t given an attainable goal, so they give up instead.
These shortcomings don’t illustrate issues in corporate wellness programs themselves, they just have the wrong type of motivations behind them. We conducted our own blind study performed by an independent third-party that sought to discover what drives employees’ behavior and preferences. Contrary to Spicer, our research showed that health and social incentives like those described above really did in fact improve a range of factors like company loyalty, culture, health, and productivity. Further, as you can see in the graphs below, the use of tangible rewards performed overwhelmingly better: improving health by 20% more than health/social rewards, culture/productivity by 34% and company loyalty by 17%.
So as you’re building your employee wellness program, or as you are looking for ways to increase engagement and results in an already ongoing program, consider offering tangible incentives like gift cards and brand-name merchandise. It’s difficult to stay committed to a goal without the right encouragement—maybe you know this first hand—which can be tough to do in the abstract. Clothes bought with gift cards or a FitBit, however, serve as lasting reminders of your effort and are effective motivators.