Contests, cash compensation boost wellness programs

With 2013 just a few months away, many employees will be jump starting their diets following the always calorie-heavy holiday season, and this gives employers a chance to improve their wellness programs.

Losing weight can be a frustrating, tough process, but by offering weight-loss contests in the workplace, it can help keep employees motivated and more committed to success, says David Roddenberry, co-founder of, an organization that helps employers design weight-loss challenges. Using contests embeds employees’ weight-loss efforts into corporate culture, adding a layer of accountability as well as increased engagement from the friendly competition.

“There are lots of individual choices you make every day, and they all add up to have an impact on your health,” Roddenberry says. “Contests help you prioritize and make those micro decisions better and more effective, and it makes the weight loss fun and exciting.”

To improve the effectiveness of weight-loss contests in the workplace, Roddenberry recommends employers offer cash prizes to those who are successful. In fact, in Roddenberry’s experience, employees are three to five times more successful when cash prizes are included in weight-loss competitions.

“Money talks and employees respond to cash,” Roddenbarry says. “It at least gets them listening to benefits communication.”

With health care costs out of control, it is becoming more important for Americans to take better care of themselves, Roddenbarry says. While many employers are turning to consumer-driven health plans to manage costs, only so much of the expenses can be shifted, but improving employees’ health offers a long-term solution. Employers can realize such significant savings that each pound lost represents a reduction of $10-12 in health care costs.

“If we’re able to get people to do what they’re supposed to do with their health, we’ll bend the cost curve on health care, and costs will start to moderate or even go down,” Roddenberry says. “A lot of the reason health care costs have been increasing so much is we are unhealthy, and obesity rates have doubled in the last 20 years.”

Along with contests and cash compensation, some employers offer lifestyle coaching to their employees, Roddenberry says. Although some employees may not be ready for this labor-intensive approach, it is helpful for some because it gives them the chance to work with an expert who can identify ways employees can improve their weight-loss efforts. Many employees also find lifestyle coaches provide an extra sense of motivation and accountability.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, unfortunately,” Roddenberry says. “It’s a very complicated issue, so it’s really about bringing in a myriad of options to the employees and making those available so that they can use the techniques that will work most effective for them.”


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