According to Gordian Health Solutions, the effectiveness of Employee Wellness Programs in improving health and reducing health care costs is directly linked to incentives: the more substantial the incentives, the higher the success rate.
Incentives can range from tokens of achievement, such as t-shirts, water bottles
and sports equipment, to more substantial financial awards, such as cash incentives
or copay vouchers for the successful completion of a program.
Nationwide Insurance is seeing results from a small incentive program initiated
by one of the corporation’s worksite nurses. To promote lunchtime walking,
the staff member has informally launched a “shoelace program” modeled
after the karate-belt color system. Employees progress through the color scale
until they reach “black-lace” status. The reward system has resulted
in more employees making commitments to walk during their lunch hour.
At the high end of the reward spectrum, some organizations pay cash to employees
who meet wellness goals. LuK, Inc. offers employees $250 for kicking the tobacco
habit and remaining smoke free for 12 months. For logging fitness points that
add up to 10 miles a month, employees are eligible for health assessments, which
can result in reward amounts of up to $225.
The most effective motivator, according to Gordian research, comes through
linking participation in Employee Wellness Programs directly to insurance premiums.
Doing so clearly demonstrates to employees the positive effects of wellness
on their own health care costs. often, the first step in linking wellness programming
to insurance coverage is lowering deductibles for wellness care or eliminating
deductibles altogether. By adding this benefit, organizations can promote employees
to undertake routine screenings and other procedures to respond to health problems
before they become chronic. Early detection benefits both patient health and
employer health costs.
Incentivizing Employee Wellness Plan participation with health care credits
More frequently, employers are going beyond improved wellness care coverage
and looking to demonstrate the importance of wellness by linking participation
to employees’ bottom lines. Worthington Industries has recently rolled
out a program that allows employees to eliminate their portion of the insurance
premium by enrolling in a Healthy Choices Employee Wellness Program.
During the first year of the Healthy Choices program, employees and their spouses
complete Individual Health Assessments and medical screenings to determine their
levels of health risks. Nurses, dietitians and exercise specialists are available
to help moderate- and high-risk members develop individual action plans for
improved health through the use of educational materials, behavior modification,
telephone help from third-party program health coordinators, and formal health
management initiatives. By completing the assessments, employees earn their
full premium credit. Because some plans at Worthington require no staff member
contribution, a cash award takes the place of a credit in those cases. During
year two of the program, the wellness bar is raised slightly. To continue to
receive the wellness credit, members in the moderate- to high-risk category
will be required to work at setting goals with third-party health coordinators.
Year three raises the bar again, requiring members to show progress in meeting
goals and to continue to work with health coordinators to reach goals.
After year three, Worthington Industries employees will be on the wellness
track. The corporation believes that will mean a healthier workforce and cost
savings for employees and the corporation. The well being of Worthington employees
is the foundation of this program, and both employees and the company are expected
to benefit from the long-term advantages of the Healthy Choices Employee Wellness
While Worthington has taken a broad approach to wellness, other organizations
have found success in offering incentives in specific areas. Longaberger, for
example, offers a discount on health care policies for employees who do not
use tobacco. An individual staff member who doesn’t use tobacco saves
$7 per bi-weekly pay. For tobacco-free employees with family coverage whose
families are also tobacco-free, the savings increases to $14 per pay.
The next step: Penalizing harmful behaviors
As it stands, health care is the only type of insurance that doesn’t
focus on penalizing for behaviors that put the insured party at risk. With health
care costs rising so dramatically, that could soon change. Just as an accident
likely raises auto insurance premiums, increasing premiums for those who engage
in unhealthy behaviors is a possible next step in employers’ attempts
to manage health care costs.
Reports that employees would support this type of action are stacking up. One
Ohio employer conducted an informal survey that indicated employees would consider
it a morale boost if health-conscious employees were relieved of some of the
burden of subsidizing care for employees who engage in behaviors that adversely
affect their health. Whether or not this type of program gains popularity, one
thing is sure: the need to control the rise in health care costs is becoming
ever more pressing.
The Last Step: Getting Started
No matter what strategy, from offering employees health resources to providing
incentives for healthy behaviors, employers have a real opportunity to improve
morale and productivity, reduce rates of absence and control health care costs
through wellness. The first step is committing to taking one, no matter what
size effort is appropriate for your organization.
Small steps lead to big strides.