Do Incentives Work for Wellness Programs?

  • Jan 31, 2012

what is role for incenitves in corporate wellness programs?Austin, Texas: I was reading a wellness-themed blog the other day and there was a great deal of discussion of the value of incentives in a wellness program. People were discussing whether or not incentives work in these programs.

It seems from reading the posts that people who have had bad experiences with their wellness programs blame the incentives themselves – not the program at all.

As someone who has been in this industry for nearly 30 years, I can say unequivocally that incentives are part of an overall program, and should not, and cannot act as a stand alone plan.

Incentive programs without clear strategy and execution are a waste of time, energy, effort and other valuable resources. I am more for an “entire well-being program” that uses incentives along with education, awareness, employee consultations, simplified program rules, management support, etc.

Education is crucial, so important that we created pre-designed wellness, fitness and nutrition guides. An employee who understands the importance of smoking cessation or cholesterol or stress management will be much more motivated to change their habits.

How about the plan itself– and it’s execution?

I have written extensively on how to put together an effective wellness program, how to get management buy-in, steps to improve employee engagement, etc.– all of which are necessary for a successful program.

That being said, for anyone to say that incentives do not work is ridiculous. It just means that a particular incentive program was set up wrong, promoted improperly, wasn’t in the best interest of the people, was poorly planned, had vague goals, did not have management support, wasn’t maintained sufficiently – or a host of other reasons…all which a good incentives provider should have stressed and encouraged from the start.

This reminds me of a funny story: I had a convenience store client about 15 years ago that called me after running his own promotion that gave a free movie ticket away after the purchase of 5 car washes. He said it had bombed and called me in to consult on what he should do differently. Long story short.. he kept the punchcards in a drawer, had no signage, ran no ads, his employees were not aware of the program–so I jokingly told him that if he had given $100 cash for 5 car washes–he’d have gotten the same results…and would have come to the conclusion that people do not want free money! It certainly wasn’t that incentives don’t work. It was that HIS incentive program didn’t work because it wasn’t a complete, well-planned or well-executed program.

Incentives work on many levels. For example, many parents who are trying to encourage their children to do their homework before playing, watching TV or videogames-will often use different incentives: When they are small, they may get a treat of cookies and milk when the homework is completed. A few years later, they may be able to stay up late one night for finishing homework on time. As the child grows, they can have the car for the weekend. Later it progresses to “if you do your homework and get good grades, you should be able to get into your favorite college — and possibly get scholarship money”. All these are incentives that when properly promoted, with clear goals, buy-in from both parties, a clear carrot and stick arrangement, and reinforcement and enforcement — can work very effectively.

As a marketing major, we were taught the importance of the 4 “P”s of Marketing: Product, Place, Price & Promotion. All four elements must work together. One without the other is domed to mediocrity or failure. Anyone that thinks they can get by with less than all four elements will have sub-par results–at best.

Incentives are just one pillar of a successful wellness program–that would also include management support, employee involvement from the start, clear cut rules that are simple and clear, strong kickoff, constant reinforcement, communication and reminders among others.

With all these elements in place, it would be difficult to see any wellness program fail. Without all of them expect mediocre results at best.

Incentives do work–when part of a well-planned and well-executed complete wellness program.

Here’s to a healthier workplace.


  • Category: Wellness Programs
  • Tags: do incenitves help wellness programs, effectiveness of wellness incentives, incenitves for wellness, should companies include incentives in their wellness programs, Wellness incentives