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In a survey on the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program website, we asked, “Does your employee wellness program include financial incentives?”

Here are the results:


The most recent Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference looked at the use of financial incentives in more depth. Many companies, according to Dr. Ron Goetzel, a leading researcher at Emory University and Thompson-Reuters, have used financial incentives to increase participation within their wellness programs, with some very mixed results.

Some companies have used significant financial incentives, in the form of reduced health insurance premiums, or payment for memberships in fitness clubs. If the incentives are high enough, employees participate at higher rates in completion of health risk assessments and they are more likely to sign up for fitness activities or classes offered as part of the wellness program.

The problem that many of these companies have encountered is that higher rates of participation have not always led to behavior change. Participation rates are high only as long as the financial incentives are offered. If they are withdrawn, so that the employees may engage in wellness programs for intrinsic reasons rather than to get a financial reward, the participation rates plummet.

There is also a trend that many of the companies are noticing. If the financial incentives do not continue to increase, year to year, the participation rates are trending down. To be fair, these companies are still seeing a return on investment of approximately 3:1.

Other companies that do not offer large financial incentives are frustrated that modest financial incentives do not appear to be effective in increasing participation. Jill Young, MS, the Wellness Coordinator for the University of Montana discovered that small to modest financial incentives did not produce a positive return for their wellness program. It was only when the incentives were high that they were able to produce a positive return on investment.

This leaves us with some important questions. Do financial incentives work to promote wellness in the workplace? Can they be sustained over time? What is the tipping point for companies to experience positive benefits from investment in wellness? What are the conditions that are necessary to move a wellness program from a motivational system that is based on rewards to one that is more intrinsically motivated?

Our survey hints at difficulties associated with getting people to be motivated to improve their health and be able to live their lives with more energy and engagement. Providing financial incentives to engage in wellness programming has had some positive results, but there is more work to be done to understand the psychology of health and wellness.

Couldn't make it to our 2011 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference in Chicago? Never fear, a little bird told us there was a lot of event coverage on Twitter. We've aggregated the postings from the first day of the event, below. Stay tuned for tweets from day two, as well as other goodies, including interviews, photos from the conference and more.

#PHWC begins today. Larry Chapman leads the pre-conference session on how to build a wellness-focused workplace culture. #worklifeFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Larry Chapman doing a pre-conference session on creating a #wellness oriented work #culture #PHWCFavorite   Retweet   Reply

At #phwc pre- conference workshop focus on creating wellness focused work cultureFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Great news for small businesses -- you can also have wellness-focused culture, just like the large organizations, says Chapman #phwc Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Challenges facing businesses: aging workforce, fundamental changes, globalization, economic uncertainty, health-related costs #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Companies need to get economics of business and their concern of employees in balance, says Chapman #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

To get management on board with wellness, it cannot focus on only betterment of employees. Must also have economic benefit - Chapman #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

8 wellness culture domains: communication, incentives, policy, leadership, infrastructure, environment, normative, evaluation. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Need congruence between formal policies, informal policies, and actual practices. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Policies, practices, norms and values, phys. environ, function of the org, external environ, interactions all contribute 2work culture #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Avg. cost of employee's health in 2010 - $34,918. Includes health plan, sick leave, workers comp, presenteeism, disability #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Presenteeism -- Productivity lost at work bc of a health condition, even minor ones like indigestion, sore throats, etc. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Presenteeism accounts for more than half of that cost #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Regarding presenteeism, says Chapman, "Workforces will be more productive by addressing underlying health problems" #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

"This is enhancement of human capital. Wellness is one of the best platforms to put together everything we do in workplace." Chapman #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Chapman recommends Health Research Center (@umhmrc) for studies to help get buy-in from management http://ow.ly/4w67D #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Chapman - wellness is intentional lifestyle characterized by personal responsibility, moderation, max personal enhancement of health. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

#MentalHealth cannot be ignored. Depression, chronic stress have higher employee health costs than obesity, smoking, high cholesterol. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Workplace wellness program - organized workplace program that assists employees in making voluntary behaviors changes ... (cont) #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

(cont) behavior changes that reduce health and injury risks, improve health consumer skills and enhance their personal productivity #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Identy health needs, intervene in the 8 domains, assess intrrmediate effects, assess long-term effects #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Needs relate to health risks, injury rates, chronic illness, disabilities, absenteeism, medical costs, and presenteeism. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Use employee biometrics, as well as questions ("Does wellness program help you be more productive") to measure impact #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Benefits of workplace programs for employers: improve employee health; reduce sick leave, cost of health benefits, workers' comp #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Intangible benefits: improve employee morale, loyalty, decision-making, productivity, recruitment/retention, competitiveness #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Wellness focused culture is critical to effective wellness program. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

The best-designed wellness program won't do much good if you're not using effective communication to reach, inspire employees. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Component of wellness culture: communication. Distribute info and promotion through vehicles that will provide greatest reach. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Wellness communication needs to be timely, repetitive and have a call-to-action. "What do you want people to do?" #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Also to consider with wellness communication, make sure it can reach the family, not just the employee. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

"Most employers have not done a very good job at telling employees WHY this (wellness program) is good for them." - Chapman #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Chapman recommends incentive that reduces an employee's health care premium. Builds connection between wellness-health costs #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

When you have a high enough employee participation (like at LLBean where > 90%), it creates cultural phenomenon in workplace. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Include wellness program as part of employee policies: HR, health benefits, etc. Also, include family involvement. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

"You never know when spouse will be on the employees' health plan," says Chapman. Also, program can be family- strengthening. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Consider the workplace environment to promote wellness: What food options are at meetings? Can you set up a walking course? #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

#PWHC starts soon with opening remarks by @DrDavidBallard, followed by the general session, "What's Next in Flex" #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

.@DrDavidBallard will be talking about "Positioning Your Organization for Success in the Economic Recovery" #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Despite economic recovery and return to growth, not many benefits, money has trickled down to employees, Ballard says. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Recent workplace survey from APA found many employees unhappy, stressed and will consider seeking new jobs soon. http://ow.ly/4wjjk #phwc Favorite   Retweet   Reply

What's a psychologically healthy workplace? Uses organizational best practices to improve employee well-being, organizational function #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Psychologically healthy workplace practices-- there are five: See them here: http://ow.ly/4wjqV #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Employees in psychologically health workplaces have less stress, lower turnover, as reported by winners of PHWP awards program. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Organizations with psych. healthy workplaces have comprehensive plans, custom tailor programs and ongoing evaluations. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Employee well-being is sometimes built into mission statement; senior managers are also involved, "walking the talk." #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

.@DrDavidBallard explaining criteria, selection of Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards. Info here: http://ow.ly/4wjLP #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

National-level PHWA given to nonprofits, corporations, govt agencies, large and small -- shows ANY ORG can put practices into place. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Ballard - We are poised right now to make a big difference in the workplace for many years to come. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Opening session of #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

@drdavidballard delivered opening comments. Some companies understand importance of psychological health. Others just don't get it. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Psychologically healthy workplace is about optimizing stakeholder value rather than maximizing shareholdet returns #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Next session: what's next in flex? #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

General session on workplace flexibility to be led by Jennifer Sabatini Fraone (@bccwf) and Kyra Cavanaugh (@lifemeetswork). #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Up next: "What's Next in Flex: Trends in Research and Implementation" by J. Fraone of @bccwf and K. Cavanaugh of @LifeMeetsWork #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Today at Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference in Chicago: What's Next in Flex with @lifemeetswork @sabatinj http://j.mp/1YZxUwFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Fraone: What is flexibility – involves flexible times and flexible places, and also career flexibility #phwcFavorite  Retweet   Reply

2 dimensions of flexibility: time and place. Not about working less #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

World of work is changing. For ex, no longer a primary breadwinner in household, but workplace hasn't adapted to these changes. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

What's happening now in flex: More people willing to discuss it (like White House), HR more willing to add flex to orgs. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

There's a business case for flex. Helps with retention, recruitment. But also significant economic benefit of savings. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Stronger culture of flexibility negatively correlated with voluntary turnover. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Work flexibility improves attraction&retention; can also improve productivity& decrease costs of commuting real estate & energy consumptionFavorite   Retweet   Reply

What's next in flex: More attention given to men. This is no longer a "mommy" issue, as its been considered in past. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

People w/out children need flex too! RT @phwp_online: Flextime This is no longer a "mommy" issue, as it's been considered in past. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Men want to be more than breadwinners, want to be more involved in kids' lives, says Recent study from @BCCWF #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

"Listen to the men in your organization. Don't assume this is a women's issue or a mommy issue," says Fraone. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Work -life issues are an everyone issue, not just a mommy issue. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Also, millennials expect flextime. No flex="no thanks!"Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Millenial workers will demand flexibility. Plus, boomers have aging parents to take care of making flex critical for them too. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Aging workforce can benefit from flex as retirement age increases and more workers become caregivers #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Technology availability means more possible remote work, which means business continuity during bad weather, disasters, etc. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Flex is also strategic because global environment requires agility, Fraone says. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Flexibility can make your business more agile especially in a global marketplace. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Flex workplaces benefit with lower health care costs. Employees have lower stress, better physical health, #mentalhealth #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Organizations must do more than offer flexible programs; they must have an established flexible culture, says Cavanaugh #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Four levels of flex: nonexistent, informal, strategic, and deeply embedded. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Cavanaugh presenting 7 challenges to a flexible work culture. Challenge #1 - Manager atttiudes.Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Manager attitudes are a challenge to flex. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Attitudes abt work still stuck in industrial revolution, but we're now in largely a service industry. Manager mindset holds back flex #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Solution: Train the managers. Break the cycle so they can embrace new way of working. Encourage managers to talk about discomfort. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Challenge #2 to flex: Senior leaders like the status quo. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Another challenge to flex. Senior leaders like the status quo. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Solution: Restate the business case to senior leaders; demonstrate lowered costs by adding flex.Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Challenge # 3: Perception that flex doesn't work for everyone.Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Flex CAN work for everyone, but you have to get creative, Cavanaugh says. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Third challenge to flexibility. Flex won't work 4 everyone #phwc. Reality: there is flex for everyone it just doesn't look exactly the same.Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Solution: Customize flex by team. Let corp policies outline choices. Let managers customize flex to fit needs of their dept, location. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Challenge # 4: Idea that being on site, having face time means you're working! #phwc Favorite   Retweet   Reply

4th challenge to flex: the need (real or perceived) of face time. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Solution to face time myth: Focus instead on employee performance. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

It's OK to say no to flex, but tie it into productivity and performance. "No, but I'm concerned about .. and if I see changes ..." #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Challenge # 5: Flex grows underground. Informal flex is a big threat to a psychologically healthy workplace. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Offering informal flex can give perception that it's OK for some people, while not OK for others. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Challeng #5: informal flexibility. Can create an environment of "haves" and "have nots" #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Solution: Find positive experiences of flex and communicate them to help shift expectations about flex.Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Challenge # 6: Not sure how to measure effectiveness of flex. How do we know if it's working?Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Challenge numero 6: can be difficult to know if flex intiativea are working. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Solution: Identify and track metrics to measure. Choose short-term and long-term metrics that matter to dept and leadership. #PhwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Challenge # 7: Flex remains siloed in organizations.Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Unlucky number 7: flex remains siloed in many orgs. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Solution: Engage cross-functional flex teams. This influences multiple stakeholders, builds more comprehensive case for flex. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Thanks to Fraone and Cavanaugh for their presentation on flexible workplaces. Follow them at @BCCWF and @LifeMeetsWork #phwc #FFFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Happening now: "Exploring the Importance of Integration in Worksite Health Management" with Laura Ellison of Motorola Solutions #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Many types of health programs in the workplace: risk appraisals, health fairs, screenings, flu shots, incentive programs, etc. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Develop programs and plans to benefit everyone on the health risk spectrum (low-risk, at-risk, injury, conditions, disability #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Starting point to creating health program, says Ellison, decide on your management business philosophy for employees. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Build a health program, wellness plan that is a "business within a business" - Ellison #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Integration also needs measurement. For ex, physical activity (walking clubs, yoga) need to be connected to business goals as well. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

Common program pitfalls: Emphasis doesn't match needs of employees. No common goal with vendors and resources. Timing is off. #phwcFavorite   Retweet   Reply

That concludes Day One of #PHWC. Conference continues at 8 am CST tomorrow. Thanks to our audience tuning in from home.Favorite   Retweet   Reply

Coming Soon - Tweets from Day 2 of the conference.

A recent global survey conducted by BlessingWhite attempted to identify drivers of retention and turnover.

The top three reasons people identified for staying with their current employer was:

  1. Liking the work they do: 30%
  2. Having development or advancement opportunities: 17%
  3. Believing in the organization’s mission: 11%

Conversely, the top three reasons people identified for leaving their employer was:

  1. Lacking opportunities for growth or advancement: 26%
  2. Disliking the work: 15%
  3. Wanting more money: 15%

Now, one conclusion you could draw from this is the same as the press release that BlessingWhite put out: Employees will stay for the work but leave for their career. I am not sure I agree with this conclusion, though, because I am always wary of sweeping generalizations when less than a majority of people completing a survey endorse a particular response.

I interpret their results a little bit differently. The results indicate a lack of agreement about what is the most important reason to stay or leave. Because, not a single reason was endorsed by half or even a third of respondents, there was a great deal of variation in responses.

Some of that variation was undoubtedly driven by generational differences and other variation was driven by the country in which the respondent worked, both of which BlessingWhite highlight in their report. However, some of the variation was also likely driven by the uniqueness of the person (e.g., differences in priorities, life situations).

The lack of consistency in responses means organizations should not simply take the results of this survey and design costly, companywide initiatives to improve the number of people who like what they do or increase the number of growth opportunities that exist within the organization.

Instead, the results highlight the need to figure out what drives retention and turnover in your own organization – because clearly there is likely to be some variability. It also means that to maximize the impact on employees, your intervention(s) must be multifaceted. Otherwise, you run the risk of only improving retention and turnover for a relatively small subset of workers.

Therefore, the results of this survey really emphasize the importance of tailoring retention initiatives to the unique characteristics of the organization and its workforce. Of course, to be able to do that, you will need a good needs assessment to provide valid, actionable data on which to design future initiatives.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepthebyte / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program has a strong presence in Canada, with local programs in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. The Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia recently announced its 2011 provincial-level awards. Check out the video, below, to learn more about the winners.



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