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Guidelines for Wellness Incentive Programs


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Last week we discussed the importance of incentives in wellness programs.  Few would argue that they can and have been effective in producing results.  However, using incentives in not an exact science, there are no business degrees given for how to implement one.  Incentive programs can, and often do, differ widely from company to company to person.   

“Everyone” is an expert on incentives.  “Everyone” knows how to plan and implement one effectively.  If that is true, then why do some programs produce dramatic results, some only mediocre results and others still no or relatively no results at all?   

A report produced by six major healthcare organizations was published in the July, 2012 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.  It covered aspects of employee-sponsored health incentive programs, from reward design, measurement, and evaluation to methods for engaging employees.  What was interesting to note about the report is that it was compiled from many different healthcare groups with no involvement from the incentive industry.  It does not carry the burden of research and reports conducted by the incentive industry which are always biased toward the award component one way or the other.   

“As employers seek new ways to engage employees in programs that change health behaviors, their interest in outcomes-based incentives has grown considerably as has the need for a unified voice on the issue,” says Jerry Noyce, president and CEO of the Health Enhancement Research Organization. 

Some interesting guide points from the report for you to consider: 

  • Program goals should be flexible, rather than a set of ideal targets that could be discouraging for many participants 
  • Rewards should be earned for a variety of behaviors, rather than offering all of the incentive for one area, or earned on an all-or-nothing basis   
  • Employees should be able “to integrate behavior-change approaches into their own value framework.” 
  • The importance of cultivating a workplace culture that supports healthy behavior should be emphasized…fitness centers, healthy food options, wellness champions etc. 
  • Develop a strategic plan to guide the company’s wellness goals over the long run, and ensuring regular communication with participants

Larry Hausner, CEO of the American Diabetes Association, writes “Incentives can be an effective way to motivate some employees to participate in workplace wellness programs and to begin behavior changes,”



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