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What drives healthy behavior? Are incentives the answer?
By Ron Watt, Second Vice President, Wellness and Engagement, Trustmark Voluntary Benefit Solutions
Feb. 20, 2013
Incentives are attractive. They have the power to motivate people to make simple, impulsive decisions, catapulting employees into a wellness program saturated with rewards. Various studies show that employees are 2 to 4 times more likely to enroll in a program with incentives.1
Understandably, incentives will drive participation, but will they drive a complete lifestyle change?
Incentives are a great way to get people to take that first step, but we believe the better solution is to complement the incentives with a comprehensive communication and awareness campaign to really get employees engaged in their health.
Recent data reported from The Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), a leader in employee health management, showed participation rates in follow-up programs to be much higher with an awareness campaign than without one. The data showed 58 percent higher for disease management programs, and 36 percent higher for lifestyle coaching.
Overall, employers who chose to conduct an awareness campaign witnessed significant health risk improvement with their employees and saw a substantial, positive impact on their medical trend.2
Think long term
There is little evidence that financial incentives are effective at changing individuals’ long-term behaviors. According to an article in the American Journal of Health Promotion, offering incentives can, in fact, decrease the number of people who are successful in making positive behavior changes.
Most employees participate in programs purely for the incentive, with absolutely no intention of changing their behavior, and others will join who are still wavering in their motivation. Financial incentives take away the value of intrinsic rewards, such as feeling energized, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and becoming a good role model to others.3
If the end goal is to help employees live a healthy lifestyle, and the results of financial incentives are fleeting, then how do you organically inspire your employees to be healthy?
Incentives can certainly “prime the pump,” but to really get people engaged in their health, they need to understand what’s in it for them at a personal level. Once they’re engaged in a wellness program, they’ll receive the intrinsic feedback needed to help them make lifestyle changes—lifestyle changes that will reduce their health risks.
12009 Health and Wellness Touchstone; PricewaterhouseCoopers
2HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard, Annual Report 2012
3“The Science of Lifestyle Change.” American Journal of Health Promotion 26.5 (2012): iv-vii. Print.