Workplace Wellness

Incentives for Wellness Programs: What They Are and How to Use Them Effectively

Written by Kate

In today’s hustle culture, maintaining healthy lifestyles is a challenge for employees. With long working hours, unhealthy food choices, and high-stress levels, health goals often take a backseat. 

Amidst it all, imagine a workplace where the focus on employee health is just as important as any other work-related goal. A corporate setting where employees are not drained out but feel productive, energized, and healthy. 

Sounds dreamy and unattainable?

Well, not anymore. Fortunately, this is the vision of several companies where they are prioritizing the health and happiness of their employees by using wellness incentive programs. They are going above and beyond to promote healthy behaviors and empower employees to lead fulfilling lives at their workplace and home.

However, how do companies ensure active employee participation and employee engagement in these wellness programs? That’s where incentive programs come into the picture. The right wellness incentives, be it exciting rewards, gym memberships, or personalized perks, can motivate employees to embrace healthy habits and achieve their wellness goals.

In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at the wellness program incentives. From what they are, why HRs and companies offer them, and how to use them effectively, let’s explore the depths of wellness incentive programs.

Wellness Incentives: Inspiring Lifelong Healthy Habits

In a work dynamic where Gen Z and millennials make up approximately 38% of the global workforce, employee wellness programs are no longer optional. They are non-negotiable. 

It is why 50% of US businesses with 50+ employees offer corporate wellness programs. However, employees fail to feel the impact of these programs, leading to low employee participation rates. 

HR discussing wellness programs and incentive ideas with employees

Fortunately, using an effective wellness incentive program can bridge this gap and encourage employees to adopt healthy lifestyles and lifelong healthy habits. 

According to research by Rand Corporation, using incentives has a limited but positive effect on employee engagement. It revealed that employers offering rewards of more than $100 report participation rates of 51 percent, while those who offered smaller rewards only got 36 percent. 

You see, the right wellness incentives work as a catalyst, helping employees adopt and maintain healthy habits and gain higher work productivity.

So let’s dive deep into the realm of workplace wellness incentives with this blog, Here’s what we’ll cover:

What are Wellness Program Incentives?

Wellness incentives are rewards and perks that motivate and encourage employees to actively participate and engage in corporate wellness programs. They act as a strong nudge for employees to adopt healthy behaviors. You may offer them to your workforce in various forms, ranging from financial high-cost incentives such as gift cards or cash bonuses to non-monetary benefits like extra vacation days, event tickets, or personnel time.

These health incentive ideas are driven by the objective of sparking initial interest in the wellness program and offering consistent motivation to sustain healthy behaviors in the long run. The main aim is to motivate people to eliminate health risks and adopt and maintain healthy habits, such as regular exercise, good nutrition, stress management, and preventive biometric screening.

Why Do Companies Offer Incentives for Wellness Programs?

Companies invest in incentives based wellness programs because they recognize the significant benefits they offer to employees and organizations. Let’s explore the main reasons behind it:

Motivates Behavior Change

According to a study published in Sage Journals, financial incentives, even relatively small incentives, can influence individuals’ health-related behaviors. It is because rewards are not only a powerful motivation tool but also evoke a sense of excitement and commitment in employees. They encourage individuals to make positive lifestyle changes such as daily exercise, managing stress, and a healthy diet.

Improves Employee Health & Well-Being

According to 2017–2018 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), more than 2 in 5 adults have obesity. It increases the health risks of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and liver disease, among other conditions. The unhealthy behaviors and poor employees’ work-life balance doesn’t help. 

Here, many wellness programs come to the rescue, as Zippia states, 57% of high-risk workers became low-risk after participating in a workplace wellness program.

Boosts Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction

When you offer wellness incentives, it shows that your company genuinely cares about your employees’ well-being. It makes employees feel valued and cared for and instills an acknowledgment that they are more than just work machines for the corporate. As a result, it enhances their overall job experience and strengthens their connection to the organization.

Reduced Healthcare Costs

While investment in employee wellness can look like a challenge now, you can achieve cost savings in the long run. You see – healthy employees are less prone to chronic diseases and have lower healthcare expenses. Look at Johnson & Johnson, for example. Its smoking cessation programs have reduced smoking in employees by a significant proportion of two-thirds.

More than half of the workforce reported a decline in high blood pressure. And these wellness efforts through the right incentive programs have saved the company $250 million on healthcare costs over the past decade.

Wellness committee discussing health promotion programs

What are the Different Types of Wellness Incentive Programs?

1. Financial Wellness Incentives

Financial incentives offer monetary rewards to employees for engaging in healthy behaviors. These tangible benefits work as a motivation for them to make positive changes in their health and wellness. There are ways to offer these benefits in ways that fit with your company budget:

  • Low-Cost Incentives: These are effective wellness program incentives that deliver a powerful impact on employee morale without straining the company’s budget. It usually covers resources under $100, such as yoga mats, fancy water bottles, protein powders, self-care kits, headphones, etc.
  • Medium-Cost Incentives: Within a reasonable budget, medium-cost incentives offer meaningful motivation for employees to engage in wellness activities. With a budget of $100 to $300, they may include small health equipment, gym memberships, running shoes, wearable devices, etc.
  • High-Cost Incentives: If your company has a substantial budget for financial wellness incentives, you can invest in high-cost resources. They offer a deeper level of motivation and satisfaction to the workforce. For example, health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), wellness retreats, luxury dining, expensive gadgets, holiday trips, comprehensive counseling support, or personal health coach assistance.

2. Non-Financial Wellness Incentives

Also known as no-cost wellness program incentives, non-financial incentives offer valuable rewards that go beyond monetary compensation. They have a more targeted focus on employee recognition, work flexibility, support for employees’ overall health, and employee work-life balance. 

Think of personalized thank-you notes, certificates of achievement, or shout-outs during team meetings. Compressed workweeks, weight loss challenges, flexible leave policies, access to mental health professionals, and nutrition coaching are also good examples.

3. Participation-Based Wellness Incentives

These incentives encourage employees to actively engage in wellness activities and initiatives. The best part about them is that they are not result-focused. Instead, they prioritize and reward employees for simply their participation in the wellness program. If you wish to cultivate a culture of employee engagement and well-being, such programs work well.

Many wellness programs include tiered-incentive structures that keep rewarding employees as they reach a certain participation threshold. Employees get points, badges, or levels that reflect their involvement in different wellness activities. Take Google’s “GoogleFit”, for example. It motivates employees to track their physical activities using wearable devices and earn points for participation, which can be redeemed for rewards such as fitness gear or gift cards.

4. Progress-Based Wellness Incentives

Employees join new wellness programs with the best of their intentions, whether through participation incentives or self-motivation. However, committing to wellness goals is tough, and gradually, they start to seem less worthy. It is where progress-based incentives help employees push through up to the finish line.

They encourage employees to be persistent in their healthy behaviors and reward them based on their progress toward specific health goals. Here, HRs motivate employees to set specific goals, such as smoking cessation programs for tobacco users, and track and measure their progress towards their goals. Generally, companies facilitate activity trackers, mobile apps, or wellness platforms to allow employees to log their achievements and milestones. As employees reach their goals, they get rewards, such as additional time off or wellness-related merchandise.

5. Outcome-Based Wellness Incentives

Let’s go a step further than encouraging participation or tracking progress. With outcome-based wellness incentives, motivate your employees to set clear health goals, take necessary actions, and achieve their health-related outcomes. Contrary to participation or progress-based incentives, employees need to achieve a set target health goal to earn incentives. 

There are various ways to offer outcome-based incentives. You can schedule biometric screenings or health assessments and track specific outcome targets, such as healthy blood pressure or cholesterol levels, to offer rewards. Or arrange a weight-loss challenge where employees need to reduce a certain percentage of their weight.

How Do Incentives Impact Wellness Programs?

Incentives make achieving good health and well-being an exciting adventure for employees. It feels like a comprehensive and effective package of rewards, milestones, and personal growth.

Think of a video game. You know how it offers you rewards for reaching new levels and unlocking new challenges that keep you going. Well, wellness incentive ideas work the same way. With exciting and amazing rewards waiting at the finish line, they fill your journey to better health with a sense of excitement and fulfillment and encourage you to attain your best mental, emotional, and physical health.

Let’s understand why and how wellness incentive ideas are so influential and powerful in driving positive mental and physical health change.

1. Incentives Boost Engagement & Participation

If you earn exciting rewards with each level you conquer in a video game, you’d continue playing, right? Well, incentive-based employee wellness programs work on the same psychology. 

They act as powerful catalysts for employees and boost their active participation. It’s simple — with a sense of ownership, excitement, and accountability, incentives make employees indulge in wellness activities, track their progress, and strive for healthy behaviors. And as they complete milestones, they feel inspired to push even further. 

With incentives on the table, companies witness a spike in overall wellness program participation rates and foster a culture of engagement and personal investment in wellness.

2. Incentives Amplify Program Outcomes

Incentives have a remarkable ability to create a ripple effect for positive change. You see – when employee motivation to join a wellness program is related to the right incentives, they are more likely to adopt and maintain their mental and physical wellness. As a result, the overall health and well-being of the workforce improves. 

For example, your company’s wellness committee introduces a wellness program where employees win attractive incentives if they lose weight. In the beginning, the employees’ motivations will stem from rewards and benefits. However, as they strive to shed pounds, it’ll inspire other employees to join in. After a point, the wellness program effect will go beyond individual weight loss and create a supportive work environment, motivating employees to make healthier choices outside of work too. It may even influence their friends, families, and even the broader community. This ripple effect can lead to a happier, healthier, and more connected workforce.

3. Incentives Maximize Return on Investment

No matter whether you’re a small startup or a large corporation, every company spends a fixed part of its wellness budget. And quite obviously, they want to maximize their return on investment when facilitating health promotion programs. If you carefully select the relevant and right incentives, you can generate optimal outcomes for your wellness program engagement. 

When you implement wellness incentive ideas that align with employees’ motivations and needs, employees feel seen and heard. They learn their employers support them in their health journey, which motivates them to engage better with the wellness program.

You see, the ideal wellness program creates a positive feedback loop. Incentives help in the adoption of positive behavior change and active participation in wellness initiatives. It leads to better employee well-being, reduced healthcare costs, and enhanced productivity. As a result, you save company expenses and create a thriving workforce.

Assessing wellness diet plan for healthy living and better work productivity

What is the Best Way to Incentivize Employee Participation in Wellness Programs?

There is no one-fit-all incentive plan that works for everyone. Different incentive ideas work for different employees. It is why you should assess your team’s needs, experiment with relevant incentive methods, and find out what fits best with your company culture.

Here are a few strategies that can help with employee participation in wellness incentive programs:

1. Offer a Variety of Incentives

After the employee needs assessment, you’ll understand that different aspects appeal to different individuals. Some employees may get motivation from financial incentives, while others may need opportunities for professional development. One group of employees might want flexible work arrangements, while others light up with social motivation. It is why offering a range of diverse incentives is crucial — your wellness program can then cater to everyone

For example, you can offer cash rewards tied to achieving health goals and flexible work hours so employees can schedule wellness activities on their own time.

2. Make Your Incentive Wellness Plans Challenging and Fun

Healthy competition doesn’t hurt anyone. So why don’t you tap into your employees’ natural competitive spirit and boost their morale? 

When you set challenging goals in front of people, they are more likely to stay engaged. For example, you can introduce a step count challenge where the employee with the highest number of steps wins. It will foster camaraderie and encourage social support among participants. You can also gamify the competition by introducing rewards at specific milestones or creating virtual avatars.

3. Personalize Your Incentives

Every employee has unique preferences, needs, and goals. The key to serving them is to adopt personalized incentives that show you’re genuinely committed to supporting your workforce. 

So get to know your employees on a deeper level. You can conduct assessments or surveys to discover employees’ interests, health concerns, and preferred wellness activities. Use the data to offer tailored incentives that are easy to understand.

For example, if an employee showcases an interest in weightlifting, a gym class subscription or gym apparel will be a meaningful incentive. Or if an employee is struggling with gaining weight, a health coach can make a significant impact on their wellness journey.

4. Communicate and Promote Incentives

Now that you have a tailored and well-timed incentive wellness program in place, the employee engagement rates should hit the roof, right? Well, it takes more than just a killer incentive program to make it work. 

If you wish to remove roadblocks in employee engagement, market it on your active channels. Be it emails, WhatsApp groups, colorful posters, or business communication platforms, your employees should see value in the wellness program. 

Moreover, package and market your incentive idea well. Highlight the benefits of the program and how it can change the employees’ lives. And remember, you need to be consistent in communicating the plan and its details. The best way to do so is to share program achievements, success stories, and upcoming challenges daily. It will create buzz around the program and create a sense of excitement.

Closing Thoughts

Health and wellness incentives are a strategic and time-tested approach to building a healthy and productive workforce. However, don’t mistake incentives to work by themselves.

While incentives are effective at increasing program uptake, only a well-designed wellness plan can make them impactful. So if you want to position your company as a leader in employee well-being and attract top talent, invest in effective wellness programs with incentives as a cherry on top.

If you’re ready to offer comprehensive wellness solutions to your employees, let IncentFit help. We can transform your workplace into a hub of healthy and happy individuals with flexible and personalized wellness plans. Schedule an appointment with our expert team and get a free demo.

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

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