Crafting an Incentivized Wellness Program That Works

Posted in: Employee Benefits

The premise of workplace-based wellness programs is simple: healthy employees cost less to insure. They show up to work more consistently, are more productive, and file fewer health insurance claims. An employer can initiate a company wellness program fairly quickly by offering flu shots, preventative health exams and a host of other easy-to-implement programs. A business that promotes good health in its employees can improve both the bottom line and the overall well-being of its workforce.

More and more companies are choosing to give their wellness efforts a boost by incentivizing their employees in various ways to hit certain biometric targets. The level of benefit incentives employers can offer their workers will increase under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Starting in January 2014, employers can offer health care cost reductions of up to 30 percent for non-tobacco use wellness programs or up to 50 percent for wellness programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use (the current cap is 20 percent).

These changes will bolster the growing trend toward employer-based wellness programs. According to a recent survey by the National Business Group, spending on wellness incentives has doubled in the last four years. The survey found that “the most popular wellness-based incentives continue to be a decrease in premiums, cash or gift cards, or an employer-sponsored contribution to a health savings account or similar heath care-based savings vehicle.”

But incentives – cash in return for attending a health screening, for instance – are really just the starting point. In order to create a lasting culture of wellness, an employer must find ways to get workers fully engaged in their own health. An effective wellness program can’t be a flash in the pan – it should be built around a year-long strategy that is carefully messaged and designed to foster a culture of good health.

Consider the following tips for setting up an effective incentivized wellness program:
  1. Start small. Offer cash rewards for participation in Health Risk Assessments and biometrics readings for blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol. The information gathered during these events can be used as a baseline for health improvement.
  2. Design in your plan recurring events. Offer an incentive to the employee who keeps up annual preventive health screenings with his or her primary care physician.
  3. After your program has been up and running for a few years, increase engagement by emphasizing specific health goals for your employees. For example, offer rewards to employees who have lowered and maintained their blood pressure or cholesterol – or who have quit smoking.
  4. Move beyond financial incentives. Money helps motivate employees at the start of a wellness campaign; the next big step is to make good health a social endeavor at your organization. Online services like Fitbit and Virgin Pulse let your workers track their fitness, form teams, and join workout challenges. When fitness and health become group activities, employees are more likely to become meaningfully engaged in the wellness program.
  5. Communicate effectively. Market your wellness program from the top and keep it simple. Clear messaging with a consistent call to action should be repeated through different mediums – on email, in the company newsletter, even on flyers in the break room. Once your employees have a few real-life successes with the wellness program, be sure to share those stories with the rest of the company. And, as with any initiative, company leaders have to be on board, and they have to promote and participate in the program.

By actively encouraging your employees to be healthy, you can improve attendance and productivity while reducing health care costs. To learn more about incentivized wellness plans for Maryland businesses, contact me directly at