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What’s the best way to incentivise staff to stay healthy?

Should you give your staff a sandwich for having a good sleep? A look into different ways to encourage wellness at work.

As a new year rolls in, it’s common for people to take a “new year, new me” approach to their lives. They might sign up for a gym membership, change their eating habits or pledge to kick their nicotine addiction. While this is well intentioned, most resolutions don’t pan out – one prediction has it that 80 per cent of new year resolutions are ditched come February. But what if your workplace made a health and wellbeing new year resolution for you?

According to Willis Towers Watson research from October 2018, 74 per cent of employers were considering implementing behavioural or emotional health management programs, 55 per cent were looking at activity-based wellbeing programs, and 50 per cent identified lifestyle risk management as their priority.

Tangible rewards for behavioural changes

In a US survey of larger businesses, nearly nine out of ten employers that provided a wellbeing program offered financial compensation as part of the program, an 11 per cent increase from 2017. Annual incentive amounts are also on the rise, from $742 in 2017 to $784 in 2018. This number is only expected to increase, with 67 per cent of surveyed employers saying they planned to expand upon these programs over the coming three to five years.

It makes sense that in US organisations are jumping into physical wellness programs in a bid to lower healthcare costs, considering most of them are footing the insurance bill. But health and fitness in the workplace is also on the global agenda.

One example that recently gained a fair amount of media attention was the Japanese wedding planning company, Crazy Inc., that gave its employees ‘points’ for sleeping at least six hours per night, five days per week. These points could be redeemed at the office’s cafeteria for a value of up to $570 per year (64,000 yen). (Snoozing hard for edible rewards? That sounds like my kind of employer.)

You might be thinking, how on earth do they measure this? No, company reps don’t sit at employee bedsides each night taking notes. Like most things nowadays, there’s an app for that! Technology is embedded into the employee’s mattresses to measure their time under the sheets.

With Japan’s “death from overwork” culture, known as karoshi, and the economic effects of the country’s lack of sleep (estimated to cost the country $138 billion in 2016), maybe Crazy Inc.’s CEO Kazuhiko Moriyama isn’t so crazy.

What’s the most effective way to reward?

Reports found that financial rewards are more effective than token gift incentives in increasing participation rates in workplace health assessments and biometric screenings. Interestingly, participation rates are higher for organisations using no incentives, compared to those using just token gifts.

This seems to show that employees want their organisations to put their money where their mouth is and invest in a program that benefits them twofold: they get fit and also save on lunch money. Who wants a participation ribbon when they could take home some cold, hard cash?

This comes from a report issued by Hero and Mercer, which surveyed 777 organisations. The report also looked at the effectiveness of participation-based incentives (rewarding staff for simply being involved), outcome-based incentives (rewards for reaching specific health targets, such as lowering blood pressure/losing weight) and activity-based incentives (offering a reward for reaching 10,000 steps in a day).

Respondents reported less use of outcome-based incentives versus participation-based incentives, activity-based incentives or no incentives at all. This makes sense as revealing health-based outcomes to an employer my be too intimate for some.

Image: Source.

How much should employees have to share?

When it comes to monitoring individual health and wellbeing, there are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

For example, heath and fitness company Noom offer staff up to $2,400 each year to stay fit. This money is to be used on health related costs: gym memberships, massages, yoga classes and the like. On face value, this is a great idea, especially when you consider how costly such activities can be. However, by allocating this money towards a specific activity, such as going to the gym, you could alienate staff members who might not feel comfortable doing so. Those utilising the services could also feel as though they’re under a microscope; which services are you using, do they comply with the organisation’s standards of ‘health and fitness’ and, perhaps most alarmingly, and are they paying off?

Perhaps rather than allocating funds for a specific service, employers could reward staff for the health and fitness regimes they’re already partaking in, encouraging them to continue.

HRM previously reported on a company that paid their staff $5 everytime they opted to ride their bike to work, doubling to $10 per ride if they kept the habit going for a whole year. In this same article, Zappos’ former wellness coordinator Kelly Maher spoke of their fun approach to fitness at work, reportedly taking staff to off-site activities like laser tag or trampolining and allocating “recess breaks” where staff could play sports like basketball.

This approach might be less intrusive as the variation in activities might provide something for the less sporty among us (full disclosure: a gym is my personal idea of hell) and could also double as a team building exercise. That’s a win for employers too!

Whatever your preference is, there’s no one-fits-all approach to employee wellness. It’s best to keep all of your people in mind when formulating an incentive program.

Learn about mental health awareness, stress management and effective strategies to manage health and wellness appropriately in the workplace, with the AHRI short course ‘Mindfulness – mental health at work’.

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