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Wellness Program Incentive Best Practices: Protect Employee Morale

Posted Apr 10 2013 12:00am
Yesterday , we discussed wellness program incentives and the kinds of penalties allowed under HIPAA. Of course, just because something is legal doesn't make it a good idea. The Wall Street Journal article I referenced in yesterday's blog raises a number of issues that human resources professionals and benefits brokers should consider before launching any outcomes-based incentive program.

(If you're not a Journal subscriber, try searching for the article's headline: When Your Boss Makes You Pay for Being Fat.)

Michelin North America, Inc. is mentioned prominently in the Journal article. Michelin's wellness program used to reward employees for completing a health risk assessment or "participating in a nonbinding 'action plan' for wellness," but the company saw little behavior change. Now, Michelin employees receive $1,000 toward their annual deductibles only if their cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, and body composition numbers fall in predetermined ranges.

If employees don't qualify based on their biometric screening results, they have to enroll in health coaching -- but their incentive will be less.

Michelin is using ideal targets. That means if your total cholesterol is greater than 200 (let's say) or your blood pressure is greater than 120/80, you simply don't qualify. Here are my two cents
  • As described, Michelin's original wellness program (HRA, plus a non-binding "action plan") was unlikely to bring lasting results. A health assessment is a wonderful tool for wellness program development, but it rarely brings results on its own.
  • Asking at-risk employees to enroll in health coaching makes perfect sense, but docking their incentive does not. If higher-risk employees are making a genuine effort, they should receive the full incentive.
Protecting employee morale is where so many companies stumble. Wellness is supposed to relieve stress and increase productivity, not irritate your employees and erode their confidence!

We recommend introducing outcomes-based incentives gradually, only after the wellness program has become part of the culture. Choose a vendor who truly understands your needs and your population before taking the leap. Avoid hard-line tactics and instead reward higher-risk employees who are trying!

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