It’s no surprise that healthy employees are happier and more productive.  An increasing number of employers are establishing or expanding health and wellness programs as a way to improve their employees’ overall health, prevent absenteeism, attract and retain talent, and to maintain or improve employee morale. Employee health incentives, along with leadership support, help to encourage participation and improve wellness.

Due to the demands of everyday life, however, it can be challenging for employees to focus on wellness. It often takes a health scare like the one Angela, of Escambia County School District (ESCD), experienced. “One night during the pandemic, my blood sugar was so high that I was rushed to the emergency room, semi-conscious,” Angela says. “I had almost destroyed my body — I was mortified.” She went in for lab work and health coaching at the Marathon Health ECSD Center for Health & Wellness and began her journey to better health.

Employers need to set goals to get their teams to be more proactive in their healthcare before they end up in the emergency room. Incentives help employees take that first step to see a provider who can provide guidance in maintaining or improving their health.

Strategic Incentives to Promote Health and Wellness in the Workplace

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Employer Health Benefit Survey showed that incentives alone are not enough to get employees to adopt a wellness program, but they do increase participation for many employers. The study reveals that 77% believe incentives are moderately or very affective in engaging their employees in wellness programs.

Based on an analysis of 2020 data, Marathon Health clients who offer an incentive program saw 37% higher engagement of employees using the health center than clients who did not offer an incentive program. All that extra engagement adds up to a healthier ROI for employers too. Employers who participate in Marathon Health’s incentive program saw a 4.3:1 ROI, nearly 2x the ROI for employers who did not participate in our incentive program.

Marathon Health client Atlantic Packaging has seen an 80% participation rate in their health and wellness program that includes incentives. “I’m sure our incentives get us to the level of participation we have,” says Michele O’Dell, Wellness Coordinator at Atlantic Packaging. “We offer a variety, including a discount on insurance premiums, cash prizes, raffles and wellness workshops that involve lunch.”

How to Make Employee Health Incentives Effective

To build an employee health incentive program that boosts participation, employers must understand what motivates employees, making sure incentives align with company culture and population, and identifying what’s working and what’s not. Start your employee wellness program with these tips in mind:

Identify Goals to Increase Employee Engagement

Wellness programs empower employees to identify health risks, give them the opportunity to work with healthcare professionals — such as lifestyle coaches — to address those risks, and build health and wellness habits. However, employees must understand the specific goal and how they can achieve success.

Goals should be based on the social determinants and prevalence rates of the population. For example, if smoking is common, then employers may create a specific goal to reduce smoking. Or if diabetes is widespread, then they might encourage lifestyle changes and include workshops to empower employees to better manage the condition.

An employer’s goal might also be based on financial impact. For example, one goal may be to increase utilization of their onsite, virtual and network health centers. When employees visit their work health centers three or more times a year, companies see an average savings of $420 per member per year in healthcare costs.

O’Dell shares that a key benefit of Atlantic Packaging’s program is its impact on employee relationships and engagement. “Our wellness program acts as one of the pillars of our company culture,” she says. “It connects all of our locations. Wellness challenges bring people together and make a big company feel smaller.”

Align Wellness Incentives With Company Culture and Population

The most effective incentives are aligned with the values of the company culture and the population’s demographic and geographic data. Company culture is a weighty factor in talent retention, so it makes sense that incentives based on culture would resonate with employees. For example, if an organization is committed to sustainable manufacturing, raffle prizes that are low-waste will likely be attractive to its employees.

Demographic and geographic data also affect the success of incentives. When it comes to cash prizes, a company based in Atlanta will need to offer larger cash incentives than one based in Omaha.

Start With Participation-Based Employee Health Incentive Programs

Incentives, by nature, are extrinsic motivators. The mission of a wellness program is to generate intrinsic motivation for health, but this process is a journey. Jennifer Lowry, Senior Incentive Design Manager at Marathon Health, encourages clients to build a roadmap to get from Point A to Point B. Changing behavior requires a step-by-step approach.

“You can’t jump from no program to an outcome-based program,” Lowry says. “But starting with a participation-based program will help establish it as an asset to the employees and gradually educate them on the benefits of building healthy habits. From there, it will be much easier to make the move to a health-contingent program because you’ve broken down many of the barriers — and employees have developed intrinsic motivation.”

Incentives lay a strong foundation for employee interest in health and wellness. Over time, as a program develops, the organization can expand options and allow employees to choose a path in the program based on their personal goals.

Base Incentives on Data from Your Health Promotion Program

Data is incredibly valuable in shaping an effective workplace health promotion program. Data can reveal how the program is performing, where areas of concern remain, and what employees need and are interested in at various points in time. These insights help inform an action plan for making the program more effective.

“Data drives the incentive program at Atlantic Packaging,” O’Dell says. “We can see where we need to make changes, what direction our workshops should take, and how we can improve the program.”

Helping clients find insights within their data is one of Marathon Health’s key services. They use data to help guide clients in designing effective incentive programs that align with benefit plans as well as total population health management — cost savings and improved health outcomes. “With program tracking and management, we’re looking at the overall program and incentive design on an ongoing basis to learn what can we do to continue to evolve the program and better align with their goals,” Lowry says.

Improving Employee Health Starts with Leadership

Employee health incentives are powerful, but they don’t work in a vacuum. Effective programs are built on a foundation of leadership support and communications. O’Dell says that an important component of Atlantic Packaging’s success has been leadership support. “Our wellness program is truly from the top down — our president is passionate about the program and contributes great ideas.”

Lowry says that leadership participation also makes a big impact. She describes an all-company meeting at Basic American Foods, another Marathon Health client, where the president of the company logged into his program account and showed team members how he was tracking his progress. “Getting leadership involved from the start, and having them promote the program as a user, makes a difference,” she says. “It’s vital to have your executive leaders down to your supervisors promoting the program, encouraging individuals to participate, encouraging them to go to the health center.”

Employee Health Incentives Jumpstart the Journey to Better Health

Wellness comes with a host of rewards, but incentives help motivate employees to start the journey. Motivation moves from extrinsic to intrinsic as workers experience the myriad ways that their lives improve with a focus on wellness. Historically, 64% of high-risk Marathon Health patients who had an incentive made improvements against quality measures compared to only 46% that made improvement without the extra push from an incentive program. Angela of ECSD certainly experienced a jump start in her healthcare journey.

Her RN health coach and NP shared their knowledge about healthy eating. Not only did they offer encouragement and exercise ideas, they also became her support team. “As a result, my A1c has decreased to 6.3 percent in just 12 weeks,” Angela says. “I walk 4 miles a day and eat healthy, clean food. I can now chase after my grandson and I choose fun family activities that keep us moving. I am happy again!”

It’s no surprise that healthy employees are happier and more productive. A recent Optum study revealed that an increasing number of employers are establishing or expanding health and wellness programs as a way to improve their employees’ overall health, prevent absenteeism, attract and retain talent, and to maintain or improve employee morale. Employee health incentives, along with leadership support, help to encourage participation and improve wellness.

Due to the demands of everyday life, however, it can be challenging for employees to focus on wellness. It often takes a health scare like the one Angela, of Escambia County School District (ESCD), experienced. “One night during the pandemic, my blood sugar was so high that I was rushed to the emergency room, semi-conscious,” Angela says. “I had almost destroyed my body — I was mortified.” She went in for lab work and health coaching at the Marathon Health ECSD Center for Health & Wellness and began her journey to better health.

Employers need to set goals to get their teams to be more proactive in their healthcare before they end up in the emergency room. Incentives help employees take that first step to see a provider who can provide guidance in maintaining or improving their health.

Strategic Incentives to Promote Health and Wellness in the Workplace

A recent KFF Employer Health Benefit Survey showed that incentives alone are not enough to get employees to adopt a wellness program, but they do increase participation for many employers.

Marathon Health client Atlantic Packaging has seen an 80% participation rate in their health and wellness program that includes incentives. “I’m sure our incentives get us to the level of participation we have,” says Michele O’Dell, Wellness Coordinator at Atlantic Packaging. “We offer a variety, including a discount on insurance premiums, cash prizes, raffles and wellness workshops that involve lunch.”

How to Make Employee Health Incentives Effective

To build an employee health incentive program that boosts participation, employers must understand what motivates employees, making sure incentives align with company culture and population, and identifying what’s working and what’s not. Start your employee wellness program with these tips in mind:

Identify Goals to Increase Employee Engagement

Wellness programs empower employees to identify health risks, give them the opportunity to work with healthcare professionals — such as lifestyle coaches — to address those risks, and build health and wellness habits. However, employees must understand the specific goal and how they can achieve success.

Goals should be based on the social determinants and prevalence rates of the population. For example, if smoking is common, then employers may create a specific goal to reduce smoking. Or if diabetes is widespread, then they might encourage lifestyle changes and include workshops to empower employees to better manage the condition.

An employer’s goal might also be based on financial impact. For example, one goal may be to increase utilization of their onsite, virtual and network health centers. When employees visit their work health centers three or more times a year, companies see an average savings of $420 per member per year in healthcare costs.

O’Dell shares that a key benefit of Atlantic Packaging’s program is its impact on employee relationships and engagement. “Our wellness program acts as one of the pillars of our company culture,” she says. “It connects all of our locations. Wellness challenges bring people together and make a big company feel smaller.”

Align Wellness Incentives With Company Culture and Population

The most effective incentives are aligned with the values of the company culture and the population’s demographic and geographic data. Company culture is a weighty factor in talent retention, so it makes sense that incentives based on culture would resonate with employees. For example, if an organization is committed to sustainable manufacturing, raffle prizes that are low-waste will likely be attractive to its employees.

Demographic and geographic data also affect the success of incentives. When it comes to cash prizes, a company based in Atlanta will need to offer larger cash incentives than one based in Omaha.

Start With Participation-Based Employee Health Incentive Programs

Incentives, by nature, are extrinsic motivators. The mission of a wellness program is to generate intrinsic motivation for health, but this process is a journey. Jennifer Lowry, Senior Incentive Design Manager at Marathon Health, encourages clients to build a roadmap to get from Point A to Point B. Changing behavior requires a step-by-step approach.

“You can’t jump from no program to an outcome-based program,” Lowry says. “But starting with a participation-based program will help establish it as an asset to the employees and gradually educate them on the benefits of building healthy habits. From there, it will be much easier to make the move to a health-contingent program because you’ve broken down many of the barriers — and employees have developed intrinsic motivation.”

Incentives lay a strong foundation for employee interest in health and wellness. Over time, as a program develops, the organization can expand options and allow employees to choose a path in the program based on their personal goals.

Base Incentives on Data from Your Health Promotion Program

Data is incredibly valuable in shaping an effective workplace health promotion program. Data can reveal how the program is performing, where areas of concern remain, and what employees need and are interested in at various points in time. These insights help inform an action plan for making the program more effective.

“Data drives the incentive program at Atlantic Packaging,” O’Dell says. “We can see where we need to make changes, what direction our workshops should take, and how we can improve the program.”

Helping clients find insights within their data is one of Marathon Health’s key services. They use data to help guide clients in designing effective incentive programs that align with benefit plans as well as total population health management — cost savings and improved health outcomes. “With program tracking and management, we’re looking at the overall program and incentive design on an ongoing basis to learn what can we do to continue to evolve the program and better align with their goals,” Lowry says.

Improving Employee Health Starts with Leadership

Employee health incentives are powerful, but they don’t work in a vacuum. Effective programs are built on a foundation of leadership support and communications. O’Dell says that an important component of Atlantic Packaging’s success has been leadership support. “Our wellness program is truly from the top down — our president is passionate about the program and contributes great ideas.”

Lowry says that leadership participation also makes a big impact. She describes an all-company meeting at Basic American Foods, another Marathon Health client, where the president of the company logged into his program account and showed team members how he was tracking his progress. “Getting leadership involved from the start, and having them promote the program as a user, makes a difference,” she says. “It’s vital to have your executive leaders down to your supervisors promoting the program, encouraging individuals to participate, encouraging them to go to the health center.”

Employee Health Incentives Jumpstart the Journey to Better Health

Wellness comes with a host of rewards, but incentives help motivate employees to start the journey. Motivation moves from extrinsic to intrinsic as workers experience the myriad ways that their lives improve with a focus on wellness. Angela of ECSD certainly experienced this.

Her RN health coach and NP shared their knowledge about healthy eating. Not only did they offer encouragement and exercise ideas, they also became her support team. “As a result, my A1c has decreased to 6.3 percent in just 12 weeks,” Angela says. “I walk 4 miles a day and eat healthy, clean food. I can now chase after my grandson and I choose fun family activities that keep us moving. I am happy again!”

About the Author: Kristy Esch

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