Enticements Will Not Convince Employees To Get Healthy

Dec. 19, 2000
Employers who offer financial incentives or penalties to keep their workers healthy may only receive short-term benefits.

Employers who want their workers to get healthy may get some response if they offer financial incentives or penalties, such as paying less or more for health benefits. However, the effect will probably be short-lived.

Results of a study show that the enticements do not lead to long-term lifestyle changes.

The biggest problem seems to be the novelty of programs geared toward smoking cessation, weight management, fitness and stress reduction wear off, and employees lose interest, said the study.

And the unhealthy workers just adjust to the additional cost of their health benefits.

In the study, more than 2,400 Michigan hospital workers participated in a program, called the HealthPlus Health Quotient program, from 1994 to 1997.

In the program a worker''s health benefit costs were adjusted either upward or downward by as much as $1,200 a year, depending upon the employee''s own health risks.

The Employers also offered lunchtime health lectures, classes on smoking cessation, weight management, fitness and stress reduction as well as discounts at local fitness clubs and on exercise equipment.

Researchers found that although many employees did not participate, those who did tended to show improvement in their risk for chronic disease.

Overall, slightly less than 30 percent of workers enrolled in at least one activity per year, according to the report in the December issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Those who took part in the programs were less likely to be ill and less likely to call in sick.

However, the program had a greater impact the first year and the effect tended to decline with time.

"This paper suggests that dramatic changes in incentives -- including disincentives in the form of reduced employer contributions to a benefit package -- can impact on lifestyle," said Dr. Aryeh Stein, lead author of the study from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. "But this effect lessens over time, perhaps because people become habituated to the new benefit scales."

Study authors suggested that one might need to consider variation in incentives and disincentives from year to year, however, this would be difficult for benefits administrators and unpopular among employees.

More research is needed to determine which employees are most at risk of health problems, and what can be done to encourage them to make healthy lifestyle changes, the authors concluded.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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