Why Some Employee Wellness Programs Bite When it Comes to Incentives

4 min read

Not only has health been on the minds of seasoned yogis and fanatic green-juice drinkers recently, it seems today that everyone is hopping on the health train – including corporations. Recent studies have suggested that half of organizations with 50 or more employees have wellness programs, projecting the wellness sector into a six billion dollar industry. Workplace wellness programs are implemented with good intentions, but are the programs truly making employees healthier? To date, there is little evidence that these programs are effective. Why is that? Part of it has to do with how they are incentivizing participants. It’s widely known that incentives are a proven means to motivate employees. But as a recent Wharton article titled “Why Some Workplace Health Incentive Programs Don’t Work — and Some Do” suggests, the problem is not in the incentive, but rather the incentive structure. Many programs aren’t rewarding people for making their goals until long after those goals have been met. The piece adds: “It’s really hard to get someone to lose weight and do something that’s hard to do now for a reward that [comes] next year.” Employees need real-time gratification to maintain motivation. They need transparency of exactly how they are mapping to that target and to be incentivized along the way. For example, in sales we don’t tell reps “unless you meet 100 percent of your quota you receive nothing.” Of course 100 percent is the goal, but they are incented for closing each deal and hopefully paid at least quarterly for their efforts. Moreover, they can track where they are according to plan at anytime, from anywhere and any device. Now imagine if companies were to break down a weight loss goal into bite-sized, snackable pieces in the same way. Losing ten pounds gets a reward; 10 more a slightly larger reward, all the way up to the ultimate goal – be it 20 pounds or 100. By giving employees a little taste of the incentive along the way, the larger goal doesn’t seem so daunting and the next step is always within reach. People need obtainable goals and more real-time incentives to keep them engaged, motivated, and inspired to succeed – whether they are trying to reach a company goal, such as achieving a sales quota, or a personal wellness goal such as losing weight. (Here are other ways to improve company wellness.) After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day – and as many of us have experienced first hand, the same is true for weight loss. As much as we would like, none of us will ever go from a vegetable hater to a kale juice junky overnight. Like anything else, building a base of health takes time. Employers need to realize this and build incentive programs that will keep their staff focused, rewarded, and driven to reach their goals over the longer term.