Feature Article - September/October 2008

Making the Right Choice

Insight Into Trends That Impact Incentive Merchandise Selection

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister


It's a condition in which the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects. That's what the process of developing a successful reward and recognition program is all about. Each of the important, individual pieces interact with one another and produce something far greater than they could on their own.

One of those important, individual pieces is the selection of incentive merchandise—the items you choose to support these programs and to make them work well. What trends are happening that might affect your decisions? We've taken a wise tip from John Naisbitt, who said "Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they're going."

With that in mind, the intention of this trend brief is to provide some insight into the directions of different "horses" impacting the reward and recognition industry and how they translate into the types of incentive merchandise that will support program success.

Trend Direction: Promoting Health

If you haven't developed a wellness program at your organization yet, you need to get up to speed quickly. There has been a rapid rise in the number of employers offering wellness programs that are aimed at getting employees to better manage their health. What's more, these programs are expected to jump sharply in 2009, according to Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a global consulting firm, and the National Business Group on Health, a national nonprofit association of large employers.

Wellness programs came into being as a way to reduce staggering health care costs, and they are already showing returns in that area, along with increasing employee retention. This also falls in line with government programs aimed at ending nationwide obesity in both adults and kids.

"Employers view this as a big picture. They realize the broad power of targeted incentives in building a healthier and more productive workforce," said Tedd Nussbaum, Watson Wyatt's director of group and health care consulting in North America. "Financial incentives can be a valuable investment that provides that essential push. And the payoff from improved workforce health and productivity cannot be overstated."

Bruce Kelley, senior group and health care consultant at Watson Wyatt agrees. "Companies are targeting specific results with incentives that align their business goals and matter most to their employees," he said. "For these types of rewards to be effective, it's a matter of tailoring the incentive to the desired behavior and ensuring that employees are more involved in the process."

According to StayWell Health Management, incentives are successfully being used in health management programs in the following ways: Incentives are used to reward for completing a health assessment and used as a reward for completing related follow-up activities to the assessment. They are used in health behavior change programs such as in point systems that are tied to a menu of program activities. Incentives also are used to reward healthy behaviors, like attending classes, rather than reward health outcomes, such as weight loss.

Experts in this area said it's important to offer merchandise and other rewards that keep people motivated in the long term, because behavior cannot be changed in one day. Promotional items are kind of expected, but are a good idea to include.