Should employees be incentivised for leading healthy lifestyles?
Research suggests that employee incentives, such as discounts on leisure activities or wellness-related items, can encourage healthier lifestyles. Rebekah Haymes of health and benefits consultancy Towers Watson looks at the implications of the findings.
The role of health incentives has been a subject that many UK employers have not embraced. Evidence suggests that the inclusion of incentives alongside wellbeing programmes has not been prevalent, with only 9% of UK employers recently surveyed offering them.
However, as employers face a challenge to increase employee engagement in health, perhaps incentives will start to have a place. At the same time, is there a greater chance for employers to focus on effective education and communication to encourage employees to buy into a culture of health and embark on healthy lifestyles for their own peace of mind?
Align wellbeing to business strategy
It is important to consider why employers want to ensure that a wellbeing strategy delivers results. While we have seen employers turn their attention to the preventative measures that wellbeing presents, many employers are too focused on tactical changes, implementing programmes without any clear strategy. However, we are now seeing a change in the tide, and employers are beginning to recognise the need to develop a wellbeing strategy aligned to business issues such as low employee engagement, high health-related benefit costs, high absence rates and low productivity levels.
Aligning a strategy to business issues also helps to build the business case and gain support from senior leadership, and enables clear measurement practices to be implemented. High engagement in programmes is key to their success, and therefore action needs to be taken to encourage participation – so is this achieved through incentives or education?
What is stopping employers from changing employee behaviour? The Towers Watson Staying@Work survey 2013/14 found that a lack of budget was the primary barrier. Perhaps senior leadership does not appreciate the benefits that good employee wellbeing creates?
A lack of health engagement was the second major barrier with a lack of evidence on returns being the third, with a lack of evidence on returns being the third. A lack of financial incentives was ranked in fifth place, suggesting that employees are not seeking rewards for taking part or switching to a healthier lifestyle.
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