Sticks vs. Carrots: 5 ways to keep your program positive!
October 30, 2017
I recently worked with a company who offered their employees a significant reduction in health insurance premiums to participate in their corporate wellness program. This incentive was worth thousands of dollars and if employees participated fully in the program, many of them didn’t have to pay anything for their health insurance. Now that’s a pretty nice perk! The program was simple: participate in two wellness challenges per year, take a health assessment, and complete at least one online health tutorial.
The employer thought they were doing their employees a huge favor (dangling a carrot), which they were! But rather than thinking “Wow, my employer is willing to subsidize my health insurance by thousands of dollars just for participating in a wellness program!”, many of them felt this way: “You’re telling me that I have to do this wellness stuff or else I have to pay an extra thousand dollars for my insurance??!” (The stick.)
Needless to say, employees felt bullied, hated the program, and many didn’t participate even though thousands of dollars were on the table. I won’t go into all the details of why this incentive plan turned out so negatively, but here are some tips to make sure your program stays positive:
Survey your employees. Ask them what they would like to see as part of your program. If they feel like their input has been incorporated into the wellness program design, they’ll take ownership of the program and want to participate. Also ask them what incentives would motivate them to participate.
Have modest incentives. Large incentives can create a feeling of entitlement. In our example above, employees’ insurance premiums started out at the discounted rate. Once they failed to comply with the program, their rates increased. Because they had grown accustomed to the lower rate, they felt entitled to it and then felt punished when they no longer got the incentive. A better approach could be to issue a reimbursement after employees meet the program requirements. Other popular incentives include company branded gear and gift cards which can fit a more modest budget and still motivate employees to participate.
Reward healthy behaviors. Offering rewards for healthy behaviors reinforces positive thoughts attached to those behaviors. Punishing employees for not participating can breed negative feelings that will be attached to the wellness program.
Make sure employees know participation is optional. No one likes being told what to do, especially when it comes to something as personal as their health. If employees feel as if they have to participate, they’ll be resentful and more likely to resist. This is another reason to have modest incentives. Incentives that are too large can make participation feel mandatory.
Remember that your employees are your greatest asset! Having a wellness program is another way to show your employees you care. Help your employees understand that this is your motivation for providing a wellness program—not just to cut health care costs.
Lastly, keep in mind that incentives aren’t the silver bullet to a successful wellness program. Make sure you have a great company culture, leadership support, and a well-planned wellness strategy. For help designing your corporate wellness program, contact us. We’re here to help!