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Employee reward programs increasingly tied to wellness initiatives

Wellness programs are expected to become increasingly common over the next few years as companies move to reduce their healthcare costs.

Wellness programs are expected to become increasingly common over the next few years as companies move to reduce their healthcare costs.

With its focus on preventative care, the Affordable Care Act gives businesses additional leeway in the creation of corporate-sponsored wellness plans. Organizations can offer insurance discounts and other rewards to employees who have exhibited specific behavior, such as quitting smoking, losing weight or completing health risk awareness courses. This action has contributed to the incorporation of wellness aspects into employee reward programs.

The Trends in Employee Recognition 2013 report by WorldatWork and the ITA Group found that 41 percent of organizations use initiatives designed to motivate specific behavior, such as those required for successful wellness programs. This is up from just 25 percent in 2008, and is the first time that encouraging certain actions replaced employee motivation and engagement as the leading objective of reward programs.

"Employers are increasingly focusing their recognition programs on employee behaviors — for example, collaboration, teamwork, creativity and problem-solving — and are even expanding them to include health-related behaviors," said Rose Stanley, recognition practice leader for WorldatWork.

Helping employees meet wellness objectives
There are a number of benefits for incorporating wellness incentives into reward and recognition programs. In addition to reducing healthcare costs, healthier employees are more productive and have more energy. Businesses have found that team-based wellness programs have contributed to improved communication, cooperation and higher levels of engagement. However, companies need to be careful about how they implement these programs.

Capital Public Radio pointed out that it can be difficult for individuals to balance their schedules to meet wellness goals even with support from their employers. Staff members with young children often have little time to go to the gym, making it hard to lose weight or lower their blood pressure. The source suggested that businesses think of more creative ways to help their workers meet fitness objectives without adding to their already busy schedules.

"The traditional model has been 'exercise 20 to 30 minutes' a day, three to five days a week, etc., etc. And we've been trying that for 20 to 30 years,"  Bryce Williams, vice president of Wellbeing at Blue Shield of California, told the source. "But what it really means is 'I've got to come in early, go home late, skip my lunch, miss my kid's ballgame,' and if that's what we're up against we always lose."

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