The Well-Being Journal

Do Incentives Really Work?

Jennifer Rudloff

Over the years we’ve learned that there are a number of virtues and pitfalls to using incentives to encourage people to live healthy lifestyles. By definition, an incentive is an extrinsic reward that is provided to a person until such time that the value to the recipient is internalized. When it comes to health, many employers use incentives in the hopes that their employees will internalize the need to be healthy and achieve lasting behavior change, which ultimately creates a healthier, and more productive work force with lower healthcare costs. While our experience tells us that incentives do indeed drive participation in health promotion activities, many organizations are struggling to translate that participation into lasting behavior change – and THAT can get expensive fast.

Take this scenario for example: Let’s say Company X offers an incentive to their people for taking a health risk assessment (HRA), and an additional incentive for those who participate in coaching programs to work on health risks identified through the HRA. Of their 10,000 employees 8,000 participate (up from only 3,000 last year). 7,000 of the 8,0000 HRA takers enroll in coaching, up from 1,000 last year. So far so good…but what if only half of the participants really take advantage of the opportunity and work to change their health behaviors? Company X has then invested in incentives for a lot of people who have no real intention to change their behaviors. In this scenario Company X’s participation could skyrocket but the achievement of outcomes could be totally unproductive, throwing the balance between the cost of incentives and health cost savings out of whack. Bummer. Tricky, huh?

When you step back and look at it, it’s easy to see why incentives have become a source of lively debate amongst wellness professionals. Some professionals believe that the practice of taking healthcare premiums from people who take care of themselves to subsidize those who don’t has gone far enough. They would advocate “stick” type incentives to penalize people who do not take care of themselves to offset this balance. To the other extreme, some professionals believe that laws and regulations should be put in place to ban or restrict the use of incentives all together. Others are not opposed to incentives but are concerned that the wide spread use of them is causing employees to feel a sense of entitlement for doing what is already in their best interest. There is merit in all of these positions, and all of them deserve to be heard. While I doubt the industry needs any additional laws or regulations, I do believe that more education is in order.

Employers need to be more aware of the pro’s and con’s of incentive programs so they can make smart decisions about what will work best for their people and their organization – it’s not a one-size-fit’s-all kind of thing. A consultative partner can help carefully craft an incentive plan to fit the needs of an individual organization. You must take into consideration company culture, needs, stage of well-being program development, the communications strategy, and the style of doing business. For instance, studies have shown that the better the culture and communication effort, the smaller the incentive required to drive participation.

If you want to learn more or join the debate on incentives, the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) has an ad hoc incentives group that has been meeting to explore the best ways to leverage the value of incentives. This group is reaching out across the industry to get opinions from experts nationwide. I expect this group will provide leadership in the industry around incentives, so this might be a great time to join the HERO Think Tank if you have a vested interest in being part of the industry-wide incentive discussion. Please feel free to reach out if you would like more information on this effort, or if you have an opinion and want your voice to be heard.

I could say a lot more about incentives, but for now let’s leave it at that. What do you think about incentives? What incentives have been most successful for your organization? Have you been creative with the incentives you offer? Please share!

Topics: Well-Being HERO Workplace Well-Being Engagement Health Wellness Wellness Program Incentive Programs

Healthy Business Radio: What's Working With Worksite Wellness

Jennifer Rudloff

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking with the hosts of Healthy Business Radio. During my interview I revealed the secret sauce behind successful workplace wellness programs and the importance of focusing more on a person's overall well-being rather than narrowing in only on health. Through understanding their population and adopting a well-being approach to workplace programs, organizations can reduce costs, and positively impact productivity, presenteeism, and engagement.

To hear the full interview and learn more, press play below.

[audio: http://www.healthways.com/uploadedfiles/JohnHarris_HealthyBizRadio.mp3]

Want to learn more about the study conducted on the Well-Being Assessment for productivity? Click here.

Topics: Well-Being Reduce Costs Healthy Business Radio Workplace Well-Being Engagement Well-Being Index Prevention Employee Performance Improvement Wellness Program Well-being Assessment

Workforce Well-Being: Blue Collar vs White Collar

Jennifer Rudloff

John Harris, Chief Well-Being Officer at Healthways, talks about our findings on well-being as they relates to blue collar and white collar workers. In this video, you'll learn more about the challenges impacting the well-being of your people and will gain insights into how to better engage your population based on their needs.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXwZ7Ix3TjQ']

Topics: Well-Being John Harris Workplace Well-Being Engagement Business Performance Wellness Life Evaluation Healthways Wellness Program

Connecting Consumer Voice

Jennifer Rudloff

Man on BenchIf you were hoping to develop a program that would appeal to the interests of mac users, it’s unlikely that you’d turn to PC users for advice. The same principles apply with well-being improvement solutions: In order to develop engaging healthcare solutions we must turn to our end users and understand their attitudes and motivations. Enter Healthways Well-Being Voice™, a newly created, on-line community of over 500 working and retired healthcare consumers who express their opinions, ideas, and attitudes, describing behaviors and motivations for improving their overall health and wellness among other topics:

  • Employer benefit program structure, incentives, and rewards
  • The role of and importance of communications
  • Perceptions of existing and potential products, solutions or services as well as reactions to marketing and web content ideas

The research community fosters collaborative input from individuals at varying health risk levels who deal with any of a number of chronic conditions in areas such as emotional/behavioral health, diabetic/metabolic and cardiovascular conditions, as well as those dealing with overweight and/or obesity issues. This is one of the first on-line social communities in which all aspects of Well-Being are potentially discussed, providing rich qualitative understanding to consumers needs.

Recently, we’ve gathered and applied insights in the following areas:

  • Listening to consumer definitions of Well-Being in their own words, members discuss the important balance between physical and emotional health. People describe details to us about their views of happiness, prosperity and the important role of family, friends and enjoying the activities of their choice.
  • Members share personal stories, sometimes coupled with photos submitted from times in their lives when they took significant measures to improve their health and they detail of the factors that influenced them. This is providing Healthways added consumer perspectives about behavioral change, incentive insights and engagement that we apply into our mission to enhance Well-Being Improvement Solutions for our clients and guide the development of new markets.
  • Nearly all of our members are mentioning challenges in diet, adhering to medication, exercise regularity and for some, smoking cessation. We’re getting wonderful stories from community members. One member noted that in the years following his military service, he realized he had a tendency to adopt a sedentary lifestyle. Once he returned to a more vigorous regiment of exercise, he found many health risks diminishing and his overall health improved. Another described how just a single flight of stairs resulted in shortness of breath which drove his own story of change. And another women described how the early loss of a parent resulted in personal motivation to slowly yet steadily move towards a healthier diet for her and her family.

Healthways certainly benefits from this community as we apply direct consumer voice and opinion into our suite of engaging solutions for total population health. But we’re not the only beneficiaries. The community members themselves are finding the interactions and introspections rewarding. As one commented, “It's great to find others on here where we share so much in common!” There’s no better way to learn than to learn from one another.

Topics: Market Research Workplace Well-Being Well-Being Voice Business Performance Community Needs Assessment Healthways Well-Being Voice Well-Being Improvement Solutions Healthways Wellness Program Online Community Consumers