Wellness Program Incentives

Lena J. Weiner, April 15, 2016

Despite the popularity of workplace wellness programs, the effectiveness of such efforts varies.

Despite the popularity of workplace wellness programs, the effectiveness of such efforts varies.

This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Editor’s note: This piece is based on Lena J. Weiner’s February 22 online column. To see her columns, visit www.healthleadersmedia.com/HR.

Workplace wellness programs that encourage and incent employees to adopt healthful habits are widely popular with hospitals and health systems. Upwards of 80% of large organizations offer some sort of wellness program.

But their effectiveness is up for debate.

The programs are notoriously difficult to incentivize. Many employees who respond well to incentives for goals such as smoking cessation, more physical activity, and weight loss are already motivated, says Mitesh Patel, MD, assistant professor of Health Care Management at The Wharton School in Philadelphia.

Until recently there was little research on financial incentives to boost physical activity. But Patel recently published a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggesting that greater accessibility and proper framing of incentives can lead to greater effectiveness.

"A lot of challenges around workplace wellness programs are around engaging employees who need it most," says Patel. "We wanted to learn how best to design an incentive to do that." Patel spoke with me about his findings. The transcript of our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

HLM: What can you tell me about why you chose to study workplace wellness program financial incentives?

Patel: Some of the reason we did this study is that workplace wellness programs are growing in popularity across the country. More than 80% of large employers offer financial incentives for health promotion to their employees to help them achieve health goals, which includes things like physical activity. But the best way to design these incentives to help improve outcomes hasn't really been consistent.

Lena J. Weiner

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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