Employers Use Incentives To Improve Workforce Health

U.S. employers are increasingly relying on incentives to drive participation in health programs and encouraging employees and their families to take better care of themselves, according to new survey findings from Aon Hewitt. The survey of nearly 2,000 U.S. employers representing over 20 million U.S. employees and their dependents found that 84 percent now offer employees incentives for participating in a health risk questionnaire (HRQ) and almost two-thirds (64 percent) offer an incentive for participation in biometric screenings. Just over half (51 percent) provide incentives to employees who participate in health improvement and wellness programs. The use of monetary incentives, in particular, has increased dramatically over the past year. In 2012, 59 percent of employers used monetary incentives to promote participation in wellness and health improvement programs, up from 37 percent in 2011. The use of monetary incentives for participating in disease/condition management programs almost tripled in 2012, from 17 percent in 2011 to 54 percent.

The survey shows a growing number of employers are beginning to link incentives to a result, as opposed to simply participating in a program. Of companies that offer incentives, 58 percent offer some form of incentive for completing lifestyle modification programs, such as quitting smoking or losing weight. About one-quarter offer incentives for progress or attainment made towards meeting acceptable ranges for biometric measures such as blood pressure, body mass index, blood sugar and cholesterol.

"Programs and tools like HRQs and biometric screenings can make employees more aware of their health status and of the opportunities to improve their health, but alone they won't move the needle when it comes to health improvement and mitigating cost," said the chief innovation officer for Health & Benefits at Aon Hewitt. "Incentives solely tied to participation tend to become entitlement programs, with employees expecting to be rewarded without any sense of accountability for better health. To truly impact employee behavior change, more and more organizations realize they need to closely tie rewards to outcomes and better results rather than just enrollment."

Despite increased employer interest in tying incentives to results, the survey shows room for improvement. More than 80 percent of employers provide an incentive to complete a health questionnaire, yet less than 10 percent provide an incentive to address the results of the questionnaire. Additionally, more than 60 percent of employers provide an incentive to complete biometric screening, but less than 10 percent provide an incentive to take any action.

Employers know that poor health behaviors, including risks such as lack of physical activity and failure to complete recommended preventive screenings, drive chronic conditions that lead to higher medical costs and increased absence from work. An effective incentive strategy rewarding those who take action to improve their health is fundamental for improving health and reducing costs.

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