Business of Well-being

Choosing the Right Incentive Program

In today's economy, everyone is searching for ways to reduce costs without reducing services. It's the "do more with less" philosophy, assuming that there was overspending that could be curtailed and additional services that could be added without charge. In the wellness sector, many companies have relied on their healthcare company to provide programs that are free of charge to the sponsor company and to the employee and expect a program that is all-inclusive and will engage and reward employees to change their behavior.

This isn't all bad, but to assume that your healthcare provider can provide a turnkey solution that works for everyone in every company all the time is presumptuous. Over the past several years, the watchword in the performance improvement business has been engagement. It's not enough to just "offer" a program and not have your employees involved. But how do you appeal to all employees across multiple locations, demographics, abilities and interests?  

Part of the engagement has to include the award and choosing the "right" award may mean the difference between a successful, fully engaged wellness program and one that just lingers along with a few employees participating.If you survey your employees on what award they want, the answer will always, without fail, be cash. Cash however is not only a poor motivator; it isn't a motivator at all. Cash is aligned with compensation, salary, bonus and commission. Those are hygiene factors and it is used to support living expenses.

Motivating factors are achievement and recognition and shouldn't be confused with compensation and daily living expenses. In the past, achievement and recognition items were selected by someone at the company, a company committee or in some cases, the participant from a limited catalog of items. In today's environment with the Internet and the access to unlimited goods and services, pre-selecting award items won't appeal to everyone and for a maximum benefit, the employees should be offered a virtually unlimited selection of items.  

The power of the program for the company is in the participation and the motivator for the employee is the award. More and more companies are embracing wellness programs as part of the overall employee experience. The usual starting place is with their current healthcare provider who may have wellness programs already in place that can be easily implemented. Your healthcare provider may provide a monetary award to employees that participate in having a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) and monetary awards for performance-based behavior gets coming led with other income to pay routine monthly expenses.  

A better solution would be for the healthcare provider to post "points" into an employee's bank. The employee may accumulate points for stated performance and then redeem those points for a tangible award that is not only memorable long beyond its useful life but it can be openly discussed with co-workers where checks or cash would not.

Wellness programs then become an earning opportunity for the employee just like training, service, peer-to-peer recognition and on-the-spot awards. Points don't get confused with compensation. They can be quickly launched and can be changed to match desired performance. Points aren't an entitlement and if the program changes, employees don't feel like there was a "take-away."

The Three M's

The three M's stand for meaningful, measurable and movable. For employees to be involved, the award must be meaningful to them. If it isn't, they will never be engaged. The performance should be measurable. If this is a subjective program, it is discretionary and the participants won't know what performance to do to achieve the award. Discretionary awards have a place when they are in addition to an overall program and you want to reward someone for going above and beyond.  

The desired performance should be movable. If it is not within the participant's control, they won't be engaged because too much is left up to chance. Everyone wants to focus on the awards, but the rules structure is really where the program success or failure will reside. The awards are what draws the participant into the program and gets them engaged but the rules structure design is how the company will distribute earnings and meet or exceed their objectives. There are some basic parameters for rules design:

  • Simple is superior - keeping the rules simple allows you to easily communicate them to the employee audience without ambiguity. The more confusing the rules, the more employees will interpret them incorrectly.
  • Involve all stakeholders - anyone that has a stake in the program success should be involved at this point so expectations are set that are realistic.
  • Don't get too clever - trying to ensure that you don't pay for performance that you would have received by creating crafty rules can work against you. This is not the time for trickery.
  • Think ahead - running scenarios is a good practice. This is also the time to see how an employee might "game" the system to earn the reward without actually reaching the performance. Thinking ahead can avoid some pitfalls and create expectations.
  • Don't exclude anyone - designing rules that excludes someone creates a situation that can work against the wellness program.

About The Author

Larry Bush is a 15 year veteran of the performance improvement industry working with clients to change the behavior of their employee workforce, sales organization or customer base. Larry is an Account Executive for Motivation Excellence Inc, a full-service Performance Improvement Agency providing programs to gain market share; improve sales, recognize employees, drive productivity or quality and develop teamwork, they apply their experience and ROI solution design process to solve their clients' organization's business issues. For more information visit them at or visit Larry's blog at

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