Are wellness programs a game of “trick-or-treat”?


As kids (and adults alike) prepare to dress up in costumes and fill their baskets (and bellies) with goodies, the natural thought is of course…WELLNESS…OK maybe not. But there is a certain element of “trick or treat” when it comes to wellness programs.

While there is certainly a broad spectrum of what can be classified as a wellness program, the underlying goal is to reduce health care expenses. This goal is sometimes disguised as financial incentives, step goals, biometric testing, wellness coaching and diet challenges to name a few. But what are the most successful approaches to wellness?

Providing the right incentives: Many wellness programs provide a financial component, which can be a great motivator. However, how and when you apply financial incentives can impact the success. Programs which have monthly or quarterly goals have a better chance of changing behaviors than those with an overall goal. An overall goal may cause employees to temporarily peak their activity level to reach the financial payout but participation drops quickly after and employees go back to status quo. Ongoing incentives provide better long-term results.

Ties to insurance premiums: While the Affordable Care Act limits the ability to vary premiums for healthy vs. sick employees, it does allow you to vary premiums by tobacco use. According to the 2012 Aflac Workforce Report, 35% of employees were willing to change their lifestyle habits if it meant they could lower their insurance premiums. *

Cultural integration: The employers that realize the greatest impact of wellness programs are those that have made it part of their culture. It can be team fitness challenges, the food offered in the break room, availability of walking workstations, company sponsorship (and participation) in health-related walks/events or any number of other activities. Successful wellness programs go beyond HR benefits and integrate with the everyday environment employees work in.

If you are thinking of offering a wellness program, we encourage you to discuss it with your insurance representative to see what options are offered. You might also check out the Workplace Wellness Resources offered by the American Heart Association for additional tips and best practices.


*The Impact of Wellness Programs on America’s Workforce. The Institute for Healthcare Consumerism.