8 in 10 U.S. employers offer incentives for wellness programs: Survey

One-half plan to impose consequences on workers who are not acting to improve health

Incentives — in the form of both rewards and consequences — are playing an increasingly important role in helping employers drive participation in health programs and encouraging employees to take actions to improve their health, according to new survey findings by Aon Hewitt.

Eight in 10 (83 per cent) employers in the United States offer employees incentives for participating in programs that help employees become more aware of their health status. These actions may include taking a health risk questionnaire (HRQ) or participating in biometric screenings, found the poll of 800 firms across the U.S.

Of the employers offering incentives, the incentives are in the form of a reward (79 per cent), consequence (five per cent) or a mix of rewards and consequences (16 per cent). 

Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of employers offer monetary incentives of between $50 and $500 and nearly one in five (18 per cent) offer monetary incentives of more than $500.

"Employers recognize the first step in getting people on a path to good health is providing employees and their families with the opportunity to become informed and educated about their health risks and the modifiable behaviors that cause those risks," said Jim Winkler, chief innovation officer for health and benefits at Aon Hewitt.
"HRQs and biometric screenings are the key tools in providing that important information and serve as the foundation that links behaviours to action. Motivating people to participate through the use of incentives is a best practice in the industry and these strategies will continue to be a critical part of employers' health care strategies in the future."

According to a separate recent Aon Hewitt survey, of the workers who were offered an HRQ and received suggested action steps based on their results, four out of five (86 per cent) took some action. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of those who received suggested actions reported they made at least one lifestyle improvement as a result.

Employers also reported seeing some positive impact from offering incentives, with more than one-half indicating they saw improved health behaviors and/or an increase in employee engagement. Almost one-half said they believe there was a positive impact on employee morale, satisfaction and/or attitudes, and 44 per cent saw changes in health risks, said Aon Hewitt.

A growing number of employers are beginning to link incentives to sustainable actions and results, as opposed to having employees simply participate in a program.

Of those companies that offer incentives, 56 per cent require employees to actively participate in health programs, comply with medications or participate in activities like health coaching. And one-quarter (24 per cent) offer incentives for progress toward or attainment of acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol.

More than two-thirds said they are considering this approach in the next three to five years.

The survey also indicates a potential shift in how many employers are thinking about designing their incentive programs in the future.

In the next few years, 58 per cent plan to impose consequences on participants who do not take appropriate actions for improving their health.

One-third (34 per cent) are interested in tying incentives to program designs that require a focus on health 365 days per year. For example, they may offer incentives for completing a progressive physical activity program that increases minutes each quarter, ultimately achieving the recommended cardiovascular physical activity of 150 minutes per week.

One-fifth (22 per cent) are interested in using game theories and concepts to improve existing programs or ideas.

And 20 per cent are interested in rewarding employees at specific work locations who meet predetermined criteria, found Aon Hewitt.

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