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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wellness Program Incentives: The Benefits of Rewarding Participation

When we discuss incentives with our clients, we often suggest that employees be rewarded simply for sticking with the program. Incentives based on results can be a powerful motivator, but I think it's also important to reward participation itself. Especially in the early stages of the wellness program, keeping participants engaged is crucial.

Employee Benefit News published a recent article that lends support to this view. The Public Employee Retirement Association in Colorado (PERA) launched a weight-management program targeting 1,531 at-risk retirees. After the first year, health care costs for this group dropped from $28.7 million in 2007 to $24.9 million in 2008.

After staying in the program for four weeks, participants earned a $10 gift card regardless of progress. This was their reward for staying engaged. As one of the program coordinators put it, "We know if we keep them in the program for 12 months they'll lose weight." For that reason, they geared incentives toward participation rather than specific weight loss goals or activity benchmarks.

Health coaches helped retirees set reasonable goals, and participants wore high-tech monitoring devices to track their physical activity and weight loss. I especially like the year-long nature of the program, which gave participants a "healthy step" to accomplish each week.

We'll have to see what the future brings for this motivated group. Because of the program's tremendous success, PERA has decided to offer it again next year. According to the Employee Benefit News article, other retirees are anxious to join.

Does your company reward participation, results, or some combination of the two? Let me know in the comments section below.

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