Stop Forcing Employees to Participate in Your Wellness Program

As a corporate wellness program expert, it probably seems slightly counter-intuitive for me to suggest that you stop forcing employees to participate in your wellness program. In fact, the idea of "disincentivizing" employees is actually growing in popularity; an Aon Hewitt survey demonstrated that 53 percent of employers plan to begin implementing disincentives in the next 3-5 years.

A disincentive is a negative or undesirable consequence designed to influence the performance of an individual or group. In the case of worksite wellness programs, this is typically a financial penalty (like a higher insurance premium) for not participating in a biometric screening, health risk assessment or other wellness initiative.

This type of policy is a bit controversial, and has actually resulted in lawsuits in some cases. One suit even alleges that a company canceled the insurance coverage of an employee and shifted the full cost of his premium to him after he failed to complete biometric testing and a questionnaire about health risks.

Today, many corporate wellness professionals use the analogy of a "carrot on a stick" when talking about these incentives. The problem is that once you take the carrot (discount) away, the behavior goes away with it.

Many employers are so caught up in the numbers, however, that they feel the need to provide that carrot on a stick and force employees to participate. At first, the incentives and disincentives do boost engagement numbers; however, it's a short-term solution to a much larger lifestyle problem.

Why implement the incentives, then?

I believe the real power lies in intrinsic motivation. It's a much longer road, but the impact you can have is so much more rewarding.

The trick lies in making changes to your company culture. Create an environment and build a team that is invested in supporting wellness. Implement challenges that spur on your employees' competitive spirit. Focus on positivity and celebrate healthy habits. Enact policies and build opportunities that strengthen your efforts.

This approach turns wellness into something employees want to do, rather than something they have to do. It may take more time, but in the end your results will be much more impressive than any disincentive you could force.

Do you use incentives/disincentives right now? Tell us about your experience below.