Sunday, February 28, 2021

Incentivizing Health in the Workplace

September 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Fitness, Obesity

Wellness programsI feel extremely fortunate (particularly in this turbulent economy) to work at a company where employees not only have health insurance, but also were encouraged to “get healthy” with a new wellness program that was initiated this spring.

After completing a total-body composition assessment, each employee was given a nice budget to use for a variety of get-healthy tools — including gym memberships, yoga or fitness classes, personal training sessions, weight loss programs, home gym equipment, smoking cessation, nutrition counseling, etc.

And for those who were not really active before, suddenly they had a reason to get healthier and/or become active. After all, it wasn’t going to cost anything but their own time and energy. Who could turn down an opportunity like that?!

As it turned out, not many. (We had close to 100 percent participation).

You should see my colleagues today! Several have seriously transformed themselves. They’ve lost weight, they’ve toned up, they’ve begun running or weight training … and the energy around the office is palpable.

Hell, there’s even a group of us now who were so inspired that we formed a lunch-time walking group. Now, we get bummed when there’s a conference call or meeting that gets in the way of our walk.

Of course, I realize that not every company has the means to offer a wellness program like ours — especially in this economy — and I realize I am very fortunate to work where I do.

The fact that my employer took the proactive route to invest in its employees’ health means a lot to me; mental and physical well-being are so very important, and these kinds of programs are often the first to go when it comes to cost-cutting.

That said, I am convinced that presenting employees with a program that encourages them to get healthy — without asking them to open their wallets — is one way for companies to save money and help Americans get fitter: lowering their risks for disease and illness. After all, healthy, active employees tend to be sick less often. And doesn’t that help every company’s bottom line?

No matter which side of the political aisle you stand, in light of this cluster of a health care debate here in the U.S., I think it’s safe to say that we know just how important wellness and prevention are. The benefits of exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, etc., extend to every aspect of our overall well-being and have trickle-down effects to our performance at work.

I don’t have stats to back up how much our company has saved in health-care costs this year, but I do know that having an incentive to get healthy inspired us … and I hope it’s a program that continues next year, as well.

How about you? Does your company have a wellness program and if so, has the craptastic economy changed it? Do you participate? Would you participate if your company offered one? Can you suggest one?



15 Responses to “Incentivizing Health in the Workplace”
  1. inthemainstream says:

    When I worked retail, the super hippie company I worked for offered some benefits for gym memberships and stuff. I think part of that was connected to mental health, as well. I’m not sure how many people take advantage of those offers because it’s buried in all the “Welcome to your job!” information that no one really reads anyway.

    • lissa10279 says:

      inthemainstream, do you think if it was a separate program, it would have yeilded greater participation? Seems that way to me … I think doing ours in Feb or so helped.

  2. Candice says:

    Where I work, if we participated in a health screening and a series of health coach phone calls (conversations with a health coach about the test results), we get a discount on the cost of our insurance. They also have gym memberships and the lunchtime walking club. We all also got free reusable lunchbags as a way to promote bringing a healthy lunch to work (I use mine every day).

  3. lissa10279 says:

    Candice, that health coach was also part of ours. Isn’t it a great incentive? Reusable lunch bags are a great idea, too!

  4. raven says:

    i’ve never been a part of a company that could afford any kind of ‘health incentive’ program. of course, i’ve largely been a contract employee for smaller companies since it became the popular thing to do. it sounds like this program is more of the kind of thing i’d consider participating in. i could get free stuff that i’d like to do (like yoga or dance classes) anyways but can’t afford. and i could opt-out of anything that specified weight loss.

    where i think these programs can go easily wrong is twofold. i have heard that some of these programs (this is all hearsay though… no personal experience at all) can equate weight loss with improved health. for some that might be true, but not for everyone by a long stretch. and i disagree with that kind of program. i definitely wouldn’t participate in something like that.

    also, i have a problem with health programs that completely ignore mental/emotional health. i personally believe that is at least as important as the health of my physical self. nutrition counseling is a start, but i’d love to see general counseling or life coaching as a part of this kind of program.

  5. lissa10279 says:

    Raven, ours wasn’t about weight loss — it could be, but that wasn’t the main objective. I’d have to look into mental/emotional health as an option (I honestly don’t remember if it was included) but it might be part of it.

    • raven says:

      oh i wasn’t implying that the program at your work had to be about weight loss! sorry if it sounded like i was. i was more or less trying to say that weight loss=/= more healthy. but it sounds like the program your work is sponsoring doesn’t really haaaaave to be about weight loss unless the individual wanted to make it about weight loss. frankly, i’m all for free yoga! 😀

  6. lissa10279 says:

    Oh I know, I just wanted to clarify, in case others read it that way, too 🙂

  7. FatNSassy says:

    Raven had the right idea. These programs can go terribly wrong. Many of them DO emphasize weight loss over health. And incorrectly spread the stereotypes that one can’t be fat and fit. Since weight is visible it can be devastating to those who will NEVER be able to fit the height weight charts. Some companies encourage weight loss competition. Which means people will lose weight rapidly then gain it back even sooner. Some, out of desperation will resort to unhealthy weight loss methods or even get pushed into surgery. Others will quit, and firms lose talented people.

    Beyond that, I have a problem with employes meddling in lifestyles. Overwork and stress also causes heart disease, diabetes and weight gain. So it is fine if I kill myself making a buck for my employer, but heaven help if I want to enjoy some good food and get pleasure for myself along the way. Too much like serfdom for me. Especially in light of the high profits of the health insurance industry and pharma which are the real reason for rising health.
    care costs.

    I would really regard these programs with caution. Many claim to be voluntary, but social pressure is put on employees to tow the line. And in North Carolina, they are actually going to penalize state employees who are too fat or smoke. They plan on random work place weigh ins and nicotine tests. If you don’t make the grade you will be pushed into a more expensive health care plan. Even if you personally never used a dime of your insurance. If you truly enjoy the programs your employer has to offer good for you. But make sure it is not a slippery slope where they start dictating to you your lifestyle choices.

  8. FatNSassy says:

    I would like to include the link to an article that talks about the North Carolina plan. Because some people just don’t believe it could go that far:
    Again, if your company offers gentle incentives and no one is forced to participate that is wonderful. But these employmentl health consultants are aggressively recruiting companies and scapegoating employee lifestyles to get their business. Only the workers knowing when the line is crossed can stop them.

  9. lissa10279 says:

    FatnSassy–while I respect your insight, remember that not all these plans are based on “competitions.” Ours certainly wasn’t. And it was 100% voluntary.

    Yes, one can be “fit and fat” but in my mind, the question is, why *wouldn’t* someone want to be as healthy as they could be? Especially if given an incentive to give it a shot?

    I am healthy and take very good care of my body and pay for health insurance –my premium is just as costly as someone who takes less care of their body; it’s the way it is. It would be nice if ALL our premiums were lower; having a healthier workforce would do that. (Ok “could” do that).

    While I don’t think employers should be able to fire you for being “fat” (that’s discrimination) I am much more of the carrot mentality vs the stick mentality. Give people an incentive to get healthier; it makes everyone happier in the long run. And if someone chooses not to participate … well there’s not much we can do.

    But I like knowing my employer took the proactive route to give us a jump-start; I think that made a big difference for a lot of people. Some people just need a nudge.

    • Lampdevil says:

      Incentives are good! Absolute directives are bad. I’m right happy that you’ve got a workplace that has such a workable and flexible plan, Lissa! Some plans aren’t executed nearly as well.

      In my particular case, my company offered a discount for gym memberships. Seeing this as a chance to try something possibly worthwhile, I signed up! …and then 2 months later, after enjoying the benefits of activity and weights and aerobics classes whatnot, my employer stuck me on crappy night shifts that left me unable to actually go to the gym that they were so excited to give me the discount to. Yeah. Fantastic.

      Some companies have good intentions. Other companies pay lip service to “health initiatives”, toss a little money towards it, and then completely neglect it in favor of working the employees to the bone as per usual. Which does its own kind of harm to your health. Stress will screw you up.

    • raven says:

      @ lissa:
      “I am healthy and take very good care of my body and pay for health insurance –my premium is just as costly as someone who takes less care of their body”

      i understand that this is frustrating! frankly, i find insurance of all kinds frustrating. it seems like a big scam to me. you pay your insurance, then when you try to use it… they give you all kinds of flack or flat out refuse your claim. ugh. i’m just not a fan of our current insurance company structure.

      one thing i would like to point out that really burns my biscuits about insurance (at least in the states) is that if you’re overweight, obese, or morbidly obese you will pay more *completely regardless* of your actual health. sometimes up to twice as much as someone who isn’t fat. so if you are a fattie who does fit into the insurance company’s standards of healthy numbers on your various tests… you are still screwed! ugh. insurance companies. bleh.


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