What do you suppose the outcome would be if less than 75 percent of companies with sales teams didn't set goals for their salespeople, but just paid everyone the same?
That’s what corporate wellness programs look like, according to a Mercer survey.
Mercer found that just 23 percent of major companies offer wellness programs with incentives designed to encourage employees to improve their health by addressing such issues as smoking or obesity. That number crept up just 3 percentage points since 2013, despite the myriad research studies and articles showing that, without incentives, most wellness plans don’t offer much return on the investment.
Yet there are inhibitors in place that discourage some employers from going the incentives route. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been suing large employers that “penalize” employees who don't participate in wellness plans with incentives. The commission's aggressive challenges of high-profile program’s like Honeywell's have been well publicized and no doubt have given pause to program designers pondering the use of incentives.
Incentives can be tricky, too, and not in the way the EEOC has approached them. If they’re too simple — such as simply filling out a health profile form — and the program is front-end loaded with them, employees can lose interest, especially if all the rewards come early on in participation.
On the other hand, if attractive financial incentives are tied to fitness goals, some employees take them too far just to earn the reward, and wind up actually harming their health.
So, given the legal concerns around incentives, the difficulties involved in determining ROI of wellness plans, and uncertainty over what types and how many incentives to include in a plan, perhaps it’s little wonder the task of designing and implementing them has posed challenges.
The future seems to be bright, according to a Towers Watson survey last fall that revealed two-thirds of employers say they will include outcomes-based incentives in their plans by 2017. Yet when asked how many include them now, just 18 percent answered in the affirmative. Even as wellness plans — as a concept —continue to catch the corporate eye, the promise still seems far brighter than the reality. Driving engagement remains elusive, with or without incentives, and the question remains: Will wellness programs ultimately contribute to lower corporate health care costs?