Companies try employee incentives to keep you healthy


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More and more, weight-loss competitions, lunchtime walking clubs and afternoon Weight Watchers meetings all are taking the office culture by storm.

It's no wonder why either. Employers with healthy employees have more productive employees. The healthcare benefits continue to grow in popularity, too.

In a post-recession world, our employers must ramp up production while those of us working full-time jobs take on more responsibilities and therefore more stress. Likewise, the 2010 Affordable Care Act stipulates that employers can enforce incentives and penalties for certain health goals worth up to 30% of employees’ health insurance premiums. The idea: Lose weight or buy healthy groceries and get some money back, get an annual physical examination and receive praise or recognition, follow company-approved steps to a healthier lifestyle and receive free medications, fail to quit smoking and the premium increases.

What's in it for us?

Studies show that positive incentives, such as receiving financial reimbursements for health insurance premiums by implementing healthy behavior, and penalties, such as risking financial loss to a co-worker or other entity if implementation fails, are both quite effective in the short term. Likewise, there is little evidence to show that these incentives actually help employees improve health for the long term or help healthcare costs decrease.

Let’s looks at a few examples of some companies and their very specific incentives and penalties associated with getting employees into better health:

Harvard Pilgrim in New England instituted a pilot program to 1,200 employees this spring that is a hybrid between financial incentives and penalties when it comes to grocery shopping. Each food purchased receives a score based on how healthy it is on a 100-point scale, with the best foods being rated higher. That score then is calculated with the total amount spent on groceries for the month. Employees that receive $10 for signing up and then a total score of 60 or higher receive an additional $10. The company will offer the program to the 1.2 million people that it insures later in 2014.

Still, other penalties could quite literally cost employees their jobs. As far back as 2006, a Scotts Miracle-Gro center employee was fired for testing positive for nicotine use. The company was, along with obesity, cracking down on smoking and other unhealthy behaviors. While strict, the company’s effort to prompt employees to be more proactive with their health also helped to prevent another employee from having a heart attack, after he agreed to receive testing.