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Why Employee Wellness Financial Incentives Backfire and What to Do Instead — A New Guideline by Health Enhancement Systems

Midland, MI (PRWEB) July 27, 2013

The most recent Health Enhancement Systems guideline — Why Financial Incentives Backfire and What to Do Instead — advises wellness professionals on the pitfalls of bribing workers to change health habits. Dean Witherspoon, the company’s President and founder, explains why financial incentives have very little chance of making a lasting impact on diet, exercise, and stress management.

“When people are paid to change, they’re likely to revert to the old behavior when the compensation period ends,” he notes. “Paying employees to get healthier is becoming very popular but it doesn’t work; health behavior change is incredibly complex and requires intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic rewards just aren’t effective in the long run.”

Why Financial Incentives Backfire and What to Do Instead underscores the importance of acknowledging employee wellness accomplishments with non-financial rewards. While seemingly simple, these methods can be very effective in fostering intrinsic motivation to help participants change because they want to, for the health benefits, not the money:

  • A big goal and a big event. In addition to individual goals, the incentive program needs a big organization goal. It should be something for everyone to rally around, such as 95% participation in a core feature. The goal also needs to be tied to a big event like an annual party or stockholder meeting to close the loop on achievement.
  • Interim rewards. Personal and group milestones should be rewarded and celebrated along the way — not with cash but with a tangible, visible reminder of the accomplishment and the bigger reward to come. It’s built-in reinforcement for the goal and provides a pull for those who could fall off along the way.
  • Regular communication on progress. Personal as well as group feedback is vital to maintain the sense of belonging to a program, not just going it alone. Each piece should include comments from organization leadership to reinforce the initiative’s importance.
  • Hoopla. Recognition, celebration, a pat on the back are things that almost can’t be overdone. Everyone feels good about being acknowledged for their efforts.

“There are many ways to acknowledge employee wellness accomplishments without using money,” adds Witherspoon. “Our experience in this field shows that these types of rewards have a better chance of instilling in participants a sense of self-belief and intrinsic motivation.”

For more information, download Why Financial Incentives Backfire and What to Do Instead.

Health Enhancement Systems creates employee wellness programs for organizations in North America and throughout the world. More than 20 effective, engaging HES wellness campaigns have been adopted by over a thousand organizations — serving hundreds of thousands of participants successfully.

For more information about Health Enhancement Systems, visit or call 800.326.2317.

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