Dr. Ian Chuang, medical director for the Lockton Benefits Group, made the following observation about workforce wellness strategy at most organizations: “If all we had to do was provide information, then we wouldn’t have any smokers, and we’d all be at the gym every night.”
I think most of us would agree. You would have to have been in a cave in the Himalayas (without internet access!) for the past 40 years to avoid exposure to information on the dangers of smoking and the benefits of physical exercise.
Financial incentives for wellness
Unfortunately, it often takes more than information to motivate most people to make the kind of lifestyle choices and changes that will improve their health and well-being. That’s why many employers are incorporating financial incentives into their employee healthcare benefit plans.
Of course, incentives have been around for a long time. It started with the T-shirts, water bottles and other tchotchkes that you got if you attended a nutrition seminar or participated on the company’s Corporate Challenge team. And then it moved to rewards with actual monetary value: Gift cards or theater tickets if you walked 10 miles each week, or lost 10 pounds.
Those types of incentives can still be useful as part of an overall wellness program; they add to the fun factor and demonstrate the company’s support for employee wellness. But today, in order to truly impact the cost of providing employee health benefits, most employer programs incorporate a system where there is a direct link between what an employee actually pays (in monthly healthcare premiums) and the lifestyle choices that he or she makes.
Outcome-based wellness strategy
However, at Lockton we believe that incentives need to be carefully designed to focus on actual outcomes—not just behaviors. In other words, rewarding someone for enrolling in a Weight Watchers program doesn’t lower your cost or risk if the employee doesn’t actually lose weight. Rewarding an employee for reaching a weight-loss goal or achieving a meaningful weight reduction can have an effect.
And Chuang cautions against relying on incentives alone to promote employee wellness. “Incentives often have the effect of rewarding those who are already making healthy choices, which is not a bad thing, but it introduces unnecessary cost, and does not reduce an employer’s overall risk profile,” he says. “Motivating people who need to make changes is harder; human behavior is not always logical, particularly when there is perceived ‘pain’ involved.”
Comprehensive approach with senior leader engagement
In our work with clients, we focus on helping them develop a broader, more-comprehensive benefits strategy that also includes a robust employee wellness and communication program and active senior leadership engagement. The goal is to create a cultural shift and a workplace where health and wellness is an entrenched organizational value.
We believe that these efforts, coupled with a well-thought-out incentive system, can have lasting, long-term effects, not only on an employer’s cost of providing healthcare benefits, but on the overall health and productivity of the workforce.
Thoughts? Feel free to weigh in below. Or, for more information on Lockton’s unique approach to health risk management, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.