Departments - September/October 2008

The Insider:
You Ask, We Answer

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister


his month the Insider goes to the expert sources to find answers to readers' questions. If you have a question you'd like to see addressed by leaders in the rewards and recognition industry, write to us at and we'll get the inside view.

Q: Our company is investigating options for creating an incentive-based wellness program to reduce health-care costs. The executive group believes that any kind of program we do should be mandatory for all employees. Our HR department understands that reducing costs is critical, but is concerned about making this program mandatory. How do we resolve this issue?

PIP: Your company joins a growing number of employers that are adopting wellness programs to promote healthy lifestyles: 40 percent of employers already offer them, and that's expected to increase to 70 percent by 2009, according to a recent study by the National Business Center on Health and Watson Wyatt. To help you resolve your dilemma, we turned to Michelle Smith, CPIM, CRP, vice president of business development at O.C. Tanner and president of the Forum for People Performance Management & Measurement.

Michelle Smith: I applaud your interest in initiating a wellness program since it can provide so many benefits to both your company and to your employees. Wellness programs can be very effective in reducing expenses for health care and insurance premiums. They also can result in less absenteeism and provide revenue improvements from the increased productivity of a healthier staff.

I would encourage you to include all of your employees in the program but not to make it mandatory. Forced compliance inherently goes against the very nature of an incentive or recognition program and could set you up for resistance and failure right from the start. More importantly, there are laws that protect the privacy of medical information, and depending on the type of wellness initiatives you're considering, you may be treading in risky legal territory.

I can appreciate that your executives want to maximize the cost reductions. The most effective way to accomplish that is by designing a program that will truly engage employees and create interest and desire in participating fully. Because there is an art and a science to creating a well-structured program, and you do have legal compliances to consider, I'd recommend that you utilize an incentive provider to help you steer clear of trouble and to optimize your return on investment. With professional help I'm confident you'll be able to achieve the expense reductions you're seeking while setting your employees onto an exciting path to better health.