A third (33%) of UK workers believe their bosses should pay them for keeping healthy, research has revealed. The recent study by Willis Towers Watson also revealed that 34% of employees would only participate in a company health initiative if there was a financial incentive to do so, up from 26% in 2013. While traditional financial incentives include performance-linked bonuses, profit sharing, and living or car allowances, more contemporary rewards include ‘wellness payments’, which employees spend on keeping healthy, for example, on health screenings, physiotherapy treatment, gym or sports club membership or spa days.
The findings show that this incentive demand is part of a wider problem with employees’ engagement in their company wellbeing initiatives, as 70% of workers do not believe they meet their needs.
Mike Blake, wellbeing lead for Willis Towers Watson, said: “The figures suggest that despite employers increasing their focus on health and wellbeing, existing schemes are not appealing to employees and, as a result, many feel they need extra motivation to participate, in the shape of financial incentives. Having a healthy workforce does, of course, greatly benefit employers, as it leads to lower levels of sickness absence, productivity loss and employee turnover, but employees reap the rewards of living healthier lives too.
“Taking care of health and worker wellbeing should be a shared priority of both employee and employer, not seen as additional workload that workers should be compensated for. Companies who struggle to engage with their employees would be wise to review their current health and wellbeing initiatives, so that they are truly valued by employees and meet their needs and personal health goals.”
The research found that, over the next three years, 33% of organisations believe their strategy for encouraging healthy behaviours, such as smoking cessation, weight management or increasing exercise levels, will focus primarily on direct financial incentives, an increase from 12% currently.
But Blake advised companies to be cautious about adopting such an approach. “It is understandable that companies – particularly those who are frustrated at a lack of engagement – are tempted to offer financial incentives to their employees. But this can be a knee jerk response to problems that may require deeper answers. Often a more sustainable solution is to ask more searching questions about the programmes and initiatives that are already in place, for example: are they joined up; do they connect to employees’ wants and needs; is there a broad enough range; and are they well communicated?
“Employers could consider appealing to the tech-savvy, time-strapped, fitness-conscious worker, for example, by offering wearable technology subsidies, promoting the use of meditation apps and introducing health-league tables. After all, health and wellbeing programmes, as well as health-orientated benefits, are only valuable if they are utilised.
“Very often companies experience an initial upsurge in engagement when they introduce new initiatives or wellness programmes, but experience shows that this can be short-lived as people get used to them over time and they lose their behavioural influence. Employers need to plan for this by attracting employees’ attention and keeping them motivated. Communication is key in achieving this. Regular, effective messaging can help reinforce the personal benefits of participation and lower the risk of complacency or disengagement.”