What is a Wellness Incentive?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A wellness incentive is an incentive which is designed to encourage people to stay healthy or to get healthy. Incentives are sometimes built into corporate wellness programs, and they can also be part of a school health and fitness program or even a health insurance policy. Setting up wellness incentives has to be done carefully, because if incentive programs are not structured properly, they can create accusations of discrimination or violation of privacy.

Woman doing yoga
Woman doing yoga

Health problems are a major issue in a number of contexts. Employers prefer to have healthy employees who are performing at their peak and minimizing sick days, while schools may be concerned with the long term health of their students, and insurance companies would prefer healthy customers because they are cheaper to insure. Governments are also interested in the general health of their populations, as a quality of life issue in addition to a workplace efficiency problem.

The idea behind a wellness incentive is that sometimes people need a little bit of extra motivation to stay committed to their health. Rather than simply asking people to get or stay healthy, a wellness incentive actively rewards people for taking good care of their health. Several rubrics can be used to structure wellness incentive programs, such as programs which reward people for improvements like decreases in blood pressure, or programs which incentivize commitments to exercise.

Incentives can vary in nature. Some are monetary. Employers may pay a larger share of health insurance for healthy employees, for example, while insurance companies may reward people for wellness by lowering premiums. Incentives can also take the form of acknowledgments like cards or prizes for people who participate in a wellness program. Other variations on a wellness program might include offers like buying healthy lunch for employees who meet major wellness milestones, or giving children who excel in a wellness program a treat like a field trip. Giveaways of fitness and wellness tools can also be used as an incentive, as when a company gives out bike shorts to employees who pledge to bike to work.

Privacy concerns are a major issue with some wellness incentives. In a workplace, for example, employees are not obligated to provide their employers with information about their health, and there are legitimate concerns about participating in allowing companies to monitor ongoing health conditions. Wellness incentives may also be viewed as discrimination, and could potentially expose a company to a lawsuit. People may also feel uncomfortable about sharing medical information with other participants in a program, and if people feel coerced into a wellness program, incentives or not, they may be less engaged and cooperative. When establishing a wellness incentive, people may want to check with a lawyer to confirm that the incentive does not violate the law.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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