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How to craft wellness rewards that’ll actually motivate your teams

COVID-19 has put a renewed emphasis on corporate incentive programs that convince employees to take care of their health.

How to craft wellness rewards that’ll actually motivate your teams
[Source photo: ptasha/iStock]
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From free beer and donuts to sports and lottery tickets, many states introduced incentives to motivate more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and it looks like these efforts will be more important than ever as cases start to rise again across the country. While the initial results were effective, there are steps employers can take to make their incentive programs even more impactful when it comes to getting people vaccinated and driving more participation in workplace wellbeing programs.  

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Since the onset of the pandemic, employers have played an increasingly important role in the overall health and wellbeing of their employees. Nearly all employers (90%) credit wellbeing as playing a role in overall business strategy—a number that’s been steadily increasing, according to the Business Group on Health and Fidelity annual survey. As we emerge from the pandemic, people are eager to get back to a sense of normalcy at work and in their day-to-day life, but ongoing concerns about health and wellbeing have become top priorities in both realms. Whether heading into the office full time or adapting to a more flexible work-from-home schedule, employers need to ensure they are doing what they can to maintain this newfound focus to keep employees safe and healthy while also boosting productivity and satisfaction in the workplace. 

Motivating a workforce to engage in their wellbeing can be challenging but it is critically important for organizations looking to reduce health-related costs and recruit the best talent. This is where incentives have been effective in increasing participation by 20-40% based on our experience issuing $100 million in rewards last year. The aforementioned survey also shows that nearly 80% of large employers offer rewards as part of their wellbeing strategy and the average amount that an employee can earn exceeds $750. Incentives are important motivators for getting employees more involved in their health and encouraging them to stay healthy beyond the pandemic through actions like preventive screenings, routine physicals, healthy eating, mental health care and more. Here are few ways employers can make incentives work:

Offer a variety of options

Incentivizing and rewarding behaviors and actions can improve chronic conditions like obesity or make lifestyle improvements like quitting smoking a reality, but it is not always as easy as just offering a gift card to the winner of a weight loss challenge. It takes a smart mix of rewards to both motivate a population and comply with regulations. Ultimately, there is a true science behind which incentives will work and which will fall flat.

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Financial rewards like digital gift cards for Amazon, Walmart or grocery stores are extremely effective, but employers can also diversify these offerings by promoting healthcare premium reductions, HSA account contributions, merchandise or even charitable contributions, depending on the needs of their employees and ethos of the organization. By offering a variety of incentives and matching them with specific health and wellbeing goals, employees are more likely to adopt a new behavior.

Find incentives that will resonate 

Employers need to understand the needs and wants of their workforce to find incentives that are right for them. While incentives and rewards are a proven and popular way to get employees engaged, it can be difficult to grab their attention, especially in a world with so many distractions. By leveraging data and analytics, employers can identify the best methods of communication and specific rewards for individuals based on all types of data, including demographic, economic and social determinants of health. From there, employers can identify targeted behaviors and health actions that they want to drive and begin to design incentives and rewards around them. For example, the Business Group on Health and Fidelity survey found that more employers who use incentives are tying them to mental and financial wellbeing programs (21% in 2021 vs. 15% in 2020) because of the pandemic. 

Income level can affect how an employee perceives the value of their time and there are other factors that cause people to value rewards differently like the size of their family or whether they commute to work. Someone with a large family might be more inclined to respond to a grocery store gift card while a single person who commutes to work regularly could be more motivated by fuel reimbursement. The key is to tailor rewards and incentives around the priorities of each individual employee to ensure they stick.

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Make them worth the effort

An employee’s first thought when considering an incentive will be “Is this worth the effort?” If the reward is too small for the action taken, it will be ignored. Alternatively, if the reward is too large for minimal effort, there will be a lot of one-offs and no ongoing engagement. The key is to align the appropriate incentive value to the level of effort for the desired behavior. It is vital to keep the process simple so that the only factors to consider are taking the health action and receiving the incentive. 

People will compare incentives within a program and weigh the value of different behaviors. For example, employees who are offered $50 for the completion of a preventative screening and the same $50 for reducing their BMI would certainly choose the less difficult behavior. To drive true action, employers may need to up the ante for actions that take more time.

Health incentives are no longer a “nice to have” and many employees expect their employer to offer them. For incentives to be effective and worthwhile, employers need to be thoughtful about how to use them. If there was ever a time to invest in employee wellbeing–it’s now. Employers need to have a strategy and ensure that their employees are physically and mentally strong by encouraging them to take actions to stay healthy whether they are at home or in the office.

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April Gill is chief strategy officer at Welltok, a consumer activation platform.