Benefits Strategy

Wellness Rewards Programs: Points vs Dollars

Written by Gabe

Research has shown time and again that incentives are one of the best ways to support habit change, and people are noticing. In a recent survey, 60% of small businesses (see our guide on small business employee benefits) and over 90% of large businesses offered employee benefits through wellness rewards and incentives. You may also be interested to learn why are employee benefits important. Wellness rewards programs can use all sorts of incentive-based systems to encourage employees to make healthier choices in their daily lives (and accordingly incentive management systems to handle the administrative burden) On that note, check out this guide on benefits administration systems.

While we typically recommend giving employees rewards in dollars (or whatever currency is used in your country), many corporate wellness programs choose to employ a point system instead. For example, do you earn 10 points or $3 every time you go to the gym? Either way, employees can save up their points or dollars to get gift cards, merchandise, HSA/FSA contributions (check out our introduction to health savings accounts), paycheque contributions, health insurance discounts, or other wellness rewards; but on a day-to-day basis should they accumulate points or dollars? Each wellness incentive structure has its pros and cons. Here are some things to consider when choosing which wellness rewards structure will be right for your company’s wellness program:

Benefits of using Points

  • Different Prizes for Different Levels – A point system allows employees to save up for tangible gifts at different levels. Reach 200 points, get a gym bag; reach 500 points, get a gift card; reach 800 points and get a premium differential. This structure gives you the ability to offer different types of incentives, which can make your wellness rewards more affordable. You may want to implement an employee benefits program to administer this easily.
  • Paid Time Off – Instead of providing money or gifts, a point system can allow employees to save up for paid time off or flex time.
  • Keeps Money Out of It – Directly using finances can discourage employees if they’re low amounts. It’s more appealing to think of 50 points earning a hat, instead of 50 points earning 5 dollars. Similarly, offering charitable donations based on points can be an effective wellness reward mechanism as well. But be weary of this approach, hiding your lack of budget behind points can build resentment and distrust in the program if it doesn’t done carefully.

Benefits of using Dollars

  • Clear Value – If you had the option of getting $10 or 100 points for some activity, you’d usually take the money because you don’t know what the points are worth and you’d assume that it isn’t very much. This skepticism in points has been ingrained in us by credit card points, airline miles, and other poorly designed loyalty programs. However, one thing to consider is that with credit cards, you can use your points to get cash back, travel perks, and other valuable rewards.
    Points can have varying or even changing values, and therefore it can be unappealing. Furthermore, people usually assume that point systems mean they’ll redeem smaller rewards. That’s why providing a simple incentive in dollars makes it crystal clear and immediately valuable for all employees.
  • Immediate Gratification – Rewarding employees, especially for fitness goals, is effective because employees get immediate gratification for completing an activity. Many employees will be encouraged by earning an immediate reward for their actions, as opposed to making sense of the value of a point and the inferring the reward they get later.
  • Flexibility – Point systems can be pretty flexible, but hard earned $$$ can allow employees to put their money where they need it to go right away. Instead of saving up points to purchase a gift or paid time off, employees can use financial incentives right away to build wealth.

What do we recommend?

We ran the numbers and we see that we get higher engagement rates using dollars. So if your goal is to get the highest engagement rates possible, then we definitely recommend dollars. However, if your company is very budget conscious, points offer a fantastic alternative that limits spend while still incentivizing employees to do the right thing. Our recommendation for most companies is to offer wellness incentives in dollars and additionally use points to run wellness challenges. That way you get the best of both worlds!

Check out our guides below to implement a wellness program at your company:

Whether you decide to use a point system or offer financial incentives directly, Incentfit has your back! Incentfit’s app can show employees in real time how much they’ve earned whether it’s point or dollars. Contact us to learn how you can reward employees for healthy behaviors!