Wellness programs more effective when there is monetary reward

A recent study by The Obesity Society (TOS) found that giving financial incentives to employees caused the workers to be 33 times more likely to participate in health coaching.

“While the jury is still out about whether workplace wellness programs improve health, the programs have great potential,” said lead author Jason Block, MD, TOS Member and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Population Medicine. “Our goal was to evaluate what motivates people to participate in these programs and what strategies companies and insurers can use to get everyone involved. Our data show that financial incentives clearly work to motivate participation in a health coach program.”

Employers who want to replicate the success of these findings don’t necessarily have to spend extra money. A good wellness program, according to TOS, includes a structure that promotes healthy eating habits through educational programs. It also matches people with appropriate health plans and does not emphasize one group of people over another. For example, wellness experts recommend a properly-designed program that curbs obesity also include people who are not obese.

The workplace should be supportive, as well. One way of doing that is to find alternative ways of meeting certain goals. For example, for people who smoke, offering a reward for quitting smoking may be unrealistic for everyone. Instead, consider offering incentives for joining a program that helps people quit. This way people won’t be discouraged or feel singled out.

Creating a wellness program
Health Advocate recommends that employers who want to begin a wellness program should first figure out a baseline goal. Employers may want to ask workers what they would like to get out of the program through surveys or meetings – whether obesity programs, workout initiatives or stress reducing courses. As a follow-up, employers may consider setting up programs that are easy to achieve in short chunks, along with larger overarching goals, experts said. This way there are immediate results, such as a discount at the local gym or a yoga club that meets once a week, plus goals for employees to begin living healthier lives. The more personalized the program is to the company that begins it, the more successful it will become, according to health experts.

Some easy first steps for wellness programs include serving healthy food and beverages, such as bottled water and fruits, instead of sweets, at work. Workers also may want to try walking meetings. An employer also may consider arranging for onsite flu vaccinations to be given to workers annually.

Ideally, participation in a wellness program should be easy; business owners may want to consider reducing high barriers to entry, such as overly ambitious personal goals.

Other ways to keep workers healthy
The Wall Street Journal provided a list of tips for keeping workers trim and in good shape. The article suggested teaching workers about how unhealthy fast food is, or providing pedometers to employees for participating in a walking program.

Bottom line, experts said, is to make sure that a wellness program truly fits with one’s company and meets its workers’ needs, as throwing money at employees’ health problems has resulted in wellness programs that don’t work, according to Entrepreneur. Instead, provide the programs that employees want, and encourage management and executives in the company to participate. When everyone feels a spirit of teamwork, then wellness programs can involve all.

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