Employee Incentives for Health Promotion

Incentivizing Employee Incentives – Fuelling Employee Wellness Programs

Employee incentives can solve the age old problem of wellness programs….You can lead the horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. Many companies offer wellness programs, but are not getting the compliance required to achieve success – healthy people and healthy profits.

Sadly, being healthy and more productive, lowering Ldl and curbing diabetes is not enough of an incentive for people to comply with wellness programs. Everyone is busy, and many people are skeptical due to previous attempts at a “healthy lifestyle” aka learned helplessness. Few  programs address the daunting, intimidating, frustrating challenges- the many skills, time, organizational design for change. They are rarely motivational nor supportive to encourage people to act.

Enter employee incentives – or I should say appropriate employee incentives.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

“When it comes to health promotion programs, it’s wise to avoid the “build it and they will come” strategy. A wealth of research tells us that people need motivation to adopt healthier behaviors and, especially in the early stages. Employee incentives can jump-start participation in programs and can encourage workers to complete health risk assessments (HRAs), quit smoking, exercise more, or lose weight.”

The choice of incentives is often counter productive:

Raising health care premiums for lack of compliance? Is that not punishment disguised as incentive? This is what we call a disincentive, not incentive. Excellent for encouraging dissatisfied, frustrated employees.

Cash?  Sorry – a fleeting moment ….and the expectations will be for more and more, and create a downright resentment when monetary expectations are not met.

Incentives need to be based on support of the wellness program, support of the long term intentions  and success of the program….is the intention to claim “we offer a wellness program “- or is actually improving employee health and creating a health centric corporate health culture.

Sounds so obvious…but just not done

employee incentives for health promotion
The largest part of our day is at work.  A health centric corporate health culture can have a profound effect on health promotion. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Your incentive program should represent, lead the corporate health culture and employee camaraderie. Creating that culture is #1 in terms of long term adherence, success of the program reaping the benefits of health in the workplace, productivity…..that all important ROI. On average, people invest 35-40% of their lives at work.



It costs about 20% of an employee’s annual salary to replace that employee.

At a minimum, perks should help retain employees. The best companies, however, create incentives that demonstrate the company’s health culture and inspire employees to health, engagement and productivity.

Some basic principles of human motivation:

When Abraham Maslow created his Theory of Human Motivation in 1943, he identified five levels of motivation or five needs that humans strive to satisfy:

  • Survival
  • Safety
  • Social
  • Esteem
  • Fulfilment

Human capital management, workforce optimization – it really comes down to providing health, happiness, fulfillment – really everything Maslow described in 1943.

Incentivizing Incentives……

  1. Make it personal…The employee’s perception -is it about  his/her health and happiness, first and foremost, as a person, not as your employee
  2. The trick is to first make sure that incentives don’t unfairly penalize workers who can’t or don’t want to participate. Employers must use incentives to encourage both fit employees—as well as those with health risks such as obesity, high cholesterol or elevated blood sugar—to participate.
  3. Don’t make it just about money. Money can make employees unhappy if they’re not sufficiently compensated to their expectations. Money  has not been shown to lead to long term motivation, satisfaction or performance.
  4. Appeal to the pack animal side of human behavior – or as Maslow said social and esteem. Creating that corporate health culture for employees to thrive, be part of the pack, camaraderie, investment in incentives is a perfect medium to nurture the corporate pack
  5. Institutionalize your employee incentives. Again – applying the wisdom of the pack. While it’s sometimes thought to reward employees uniquely and personally, it’s can be lethal. Haphazard rewards are inefficient and can create confusion, unhealthy competition, a perception of favouritism  for employees. Transparency is key.
  6. Measure it . As we mentioned, rewarding  employees isn’t just good for morale; it’s good for the bottom line. That’s why you should measure the ROI for your perks whenever possible.
  7. Don’t forget your culture. Consistency – the power of the incentives should be employee incentive for health promotionrespected and emanate a love and reverence to other aspects of the functioning of the company, not restricted to wellness….think about that one! Your incentive structure is a reflection of your company culture. Your perks program is an excellent way to make your company stand out.
  8. Management needs to demonstrate a commitment to health, participate in the incentive program, camaraderie and continually reinforce the corporate health culture.

Companies are advised to avoid depending on incentives as a long-term strategy for getting employees to maintain healthy behaviors. The goal of wellness programs should be to encourage employees to value the physiological and social  rewards of adopting and maintaining healthy behaviors—which will provide energy and focus for work, preventing injury and illness, feeling a greater sense of physical and psychological wellbeing.

An employee Incentive for health promotion must  actually encourage the desired results, health – which will ultimately drive behavior creating a health centric corporate culture. 


Incentives are a key part of workplace health promotion programs, but they are only one piece that is necessary for companies to achieve a culture of health. When they are wielded punitively or used to shift healthcare costs to sicker employees, incentives become a liability. Choose employee incentives, not disincentives. Best practice companies understand this and work hard to spread the message that improved health is its own greatest reward. Health is wealth – personal wealth and corporate wealth.

Best In Corporate Health…Stretching the Budget….Yes, Your company can have it all – Health Risk Assessments, Wellness Platforms, Coaching, Integrating wellness technology, Incentivizing Employee Incentives…….


Shira Litwack, Corporate Program Designer
Shira Litwack, medical fitness professional, Cancer Exercise Specialist , Medical Exercise Specialist, Holistic Nutritionist

Chief Health Enthusiast – Best In Corporate Health

Employee Wellness Toronto, Ontario – But offered worldwide!

  • Shira is regularly consulted by Naturopaths, oncologists, health coaches on cancer exercise and exercise adherence.
  • Has assembled over 20 health and fitness professionals with varying specialties to bring to corporate wellness programs
  • Platforms include: Speaking, One-one/group health coaching, Retreats, Course development for in house delivery, Metrics to measure success available, Partners always included
  • Now offering live interactive webinars, just as if each participant has a personal health coach – making corporate wellness programs affordable to all.
  • Shira has been interviewed & published in hundreds of resources over the last 12 years:

Articles featured in: ezines, ArticlesInk, European Registry of Exercise Professionals, The National Post, Investment Executive Magazine, Directory of Greater Toronto, Canadian Leukemia & Lymphoma Association, Prostate Cancer Canada, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, Anytime Fitness, Today’s Black Woman, Today’s Seniors, Medical Fitness Network, FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), Willow (Breast & Hereditary Cancer Support),Myeloma Canada, Cancer Exercise Training Institute, Urban Poling for Breast Cancer, ROW – Recovery on Water for Breast Cancer, Sirius XM Doctor Radio