Employers are getting in the business of keeping employees healthy. There are still those employers who will encourage employees to use the stairs instead of an elevator, position gym equipment in a hard-to-find old storage space or put posters up that tout the advantages of eating fruits and vegetables.
But, those measures are considered tame by today's standards. Companies are developing not only attractive wellness programs, but creative incentives to engage employees to participate in them. Just how far will employers go to keep their employees healthy? Well, that all depends upon what those workers - or the programs that have been designed for them - return on the company's investment.
For employers who choose to go the route of incentives - even those that include deterrents - the question then becomes not only which rewards or penalties, but which behavior or outcomes to target and influence employees.
Shape Up: Sign of Times
Most companies use incentives. Others go so far as to threaten employees who don't shape up with penalties. Cash, gift cards, even discounts on health insurance premiums are some of the rewards employers are dangling in front of workers who are on the fence - or about to fall off - in the hope that they may grab hold of and embrace healthy lifestyle choices.
Fidelity Investment and the National Business Group on Health report that 90 percent of employees offer wellness incentives, or financial rewards, or prizes to employees who work toward getting healthy. That's up from 57 percent of businesses in 2009. The immediate objective is noble enough: to improve the health of employees.
Employers use both so-called "carrots" and "sticks" to keep employees healthy and manage the costs of benefit offerings. The Incentive Research Foundation and the Incentive Gift Card Council reported that 8 of 10 employees prefer gift cards over all "carrot" incentives because they can be used when and where they want to be.
Plus, cards can also be awarded for multiple levels of rewards - in any denomination up to $500. When it comes to rewards valued at $50, 83 percent of recipients prefer some type of gift card. Just 17 percent polled preferred cash.
 "New Healthcare Survey Finds Spending on Wellness Incentives has Doubled in the Last Four Years"; Fidelity and National Business Group on Health; Feb. 27, 2013; Accessed May 7, 2014.
 "Research Shows Recipients Prefer the Control and Personalization Gift Cards Provide vs. Cash"; Incentive Research Foundation and Gift Card Council; April 30, 2012; Accessed May 7, 2014.