A Healthy Approach to Going Lean

Corporate wellness programs incent employees to manage their health.

Corporate wellness programs are popping up all over the United States as companies search for ways to lower healthcare costs by encouraging healthy employee behaviors. A survey of 225 major U.S. companies shows the trend continues to catch on. The number of employers using incentives to promote company health and wellness programs rose from 62% in 2007 to 71% in 2008, according to a recent survey from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), ERISA Industry Committee and IncentOne Inc.

Incentives range from $5 to $500 for weight-management programs and $5 to $600 for smoking cessation. The average reward values per person range from $100 to $300, with an overall average of $192 per person each year.

Cash rewards seem to be the most effective way to motivate employees, notes John Engler, president and CEO of NAM. "More than three out of four major employers are using health and wellness programs in an effort to rein in costs that continue to soar year after year," he says. "But trinkets and T-shirts aren't enough to motivate employees for the long term. Employers are keenly interested in innovative ways to lower costs and enhance productivity. Incentives are proving an effective tool to engage employees and keep them interested in these programs."

At the same time incentive programs are proliferating, employers are realizing greater return on investments than ever before. Out of those companies measuring ROI, 83% say they have seen better-than-break-even program returns.

According to the study, employers are offering rewards for such behaviors as:

  • Participation in a program (43%)
  • Completing a program (38%)
  • Signing up for or enrolling in a program (25%)
  • Achieving outcomes/goals during a program (16%)
  • Achieving outcomes/goals after a program (12%)
  • Maintaining outcomes/goals after a program (6%)
  • Leading groups to participate in a program (2%)
  • Recruiting others into a program (1%).

The results show that incentives offered by large employers are broad and still evolving, says Michael Dermer, president and CEO of IncentOne. "Success in health and wellness programs will require employee engagement and motivation over time. That suggests a need for a combination of incentive design strategies and effective employee communication techniques that are tailored to a company and its employee culture."

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