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October 10, 2013
What do you think about incentives to encourage employee health?

We hear a lot about the use of incentives in health promotion programs, but do they really work? Temple University in Philadelphia is betting that they do. Keep reading to learn about the school’s new employee wellness program and what it offers those who engage in healthy behaviors.

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Temple’s voluntary program provides incentives for those who take steps to maintain and improve their overall health. The program, Total Wellness, is available to employees enrolled in either of the university’s health plans.

It offers resources and campus-based activities such as nutrition counseling, walking programs, challenges, and a “know your numbers” seminar. An online health assistant offers individualized health improvement recommendations and tools and resources. “The more information you provide, the better the recommendations you’re going to get from the system,” notes Temple Wellness Director Geralyn O’Kane.

Participants earn points by engaging in healthy activities and team challenges, and by completing health-related milestones. The points can be exchanged for gift cards up to a $200 annual maximum.

O’Kane adds, “So many of society’s chronic health problems stem from preventable diseases that can be mitigated with basic lifestyle changes.”

Many employers say yes to incentives

Do incentives really change behavior? That’s a difficult question, and you can find those who will argue both sides. One source of insight is a study of more than 800 large and mid-size U.S. employers performed by the consulting firm Aon Hewitt.

Aon Hewitt found that 83 percent of respondents provide incentives for participating in health programs. Of those, 79 percent offer some form of reward, 5 percent provide incentives in the form of a consequence, and 16 percent offer both. When monetary awards were used, most were between $50 and $500; about 18 percent offered more than $500.

More than half the companies surveyed said they have seen improved health behaviors and/or an increase in employee engagement with incentives. And nearly half pointed to a positive impact on morale, satisfaction, or attitudes.

Aon experts say the first step in changing behavior is giving your employees the opportunity to become informed about their health risks and the behaviors that put them at risk.

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