Incentivizing Employee Wellness Programs that Support Physical Activity and Sustainable Behavior Change

Our Position

Preventive interventions are more effective in fighting obesity when supported and implemented where people spend significant portions of their time ( 1 ) ( 2 ). Thus, ACE seeks public policies that incentivize investment in wellness interventions through the workplace. Those interventions must be rooted in science-based physical activity and sound nutrition, and prepare employees to establish lifelong healthy behavioral patterns.

Discussion

Most American adults spend 40-plus hours per week at work, so the work environment is a fertile ground for wellness interventions ( 3 ). And there is an upside for employers to invest. Healthier employees have lower absenteeism, enhanced levels of engagement, higher productivity and greater levels of job satisfaction, while less healthy employees raise employer healthcare and insurance costs ( 2 ) ( 4 ) ( 5 ). New provisions in the Affordable Care Act allow employers greater latitude to incentivize employees to work toward achieving a more optimal health status ( 6 ) ( 7 ) ( 8 ). The result is a growing list of reasons for employers to invest in workplace wellness, and increased motivation for employees to participate ( 5 ).

But the weakness in many employee wellness programs is their failure to offer the type and variety of programming ( 3 ) and support that actually enables employees to attain and maintain a favorable health status . Too often, employees face pressure to reach targets but lack the necessary tools and education to do so.

To deliver a meaningful return on investment, employee wellness programs must not merely incentivize employees but also support and guide them. They must include comprehensive behavior-change counseling and coaching, facilitated by professionals who are well trained in weight management, physical activity and overall behavior modification ( 9 ). And such programs must be offered in a way that is highly sensitive to employee privacy ( 8 ).

Public Policy Priorities

ACE urges governments to advance public policies that incentivize the deployment of employee-wellness programs that are comprehensive, supported by well-qualified professionals, rooted in behavior-change science, and sensitive to privacy concerns. Specifically, ACE calls for public policies that:

  • Utilize tax incentives to encourage employers to implement employee wellness programs that include sustainable behavior-change counseling and science-based physical activity, and that are inclusive and tailored to meet the needs of employees and their families.
  • Encourage local governments to partner with area employers to develop shared- use agreements for municipal and/or county fitness facilities and public spaces to make fitness and wellness program participation accessible and convenient to employees.

Bring Health and Fitness Professionals into the Healthcare System Read More >
Behavior-Change Facilitation and Addressing the Obesity Epidemic Read More >
Professionally Led Physical Activity in Communities Read More >

Research

1.   Trust for America’s Health & Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Obesity Prevention Inside and Outside the Doctor’s Office. Updated 2014. Retrieved from: fasinfat.org

2.   Schwartz, Julie. Wellness Coaching for Obesity: A Case Report. Global Advances in Health and Medicine Journal. 2013; 2(4): 68-70.

3.   Berry, Leonard L. & Mirabito, Ann M. Partnering for Prevention with Workplace Health Promotion Programs. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2011; 86(4):335-337.

4.   Abraham, Jean M.; Nyman, John A.; Feldman, Roger; Barleen, Nathan. The Effect of Participation in a Fitness Rewards Program on Medical Care Expenditures in an Employee Population. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2012; 54(3): 280-285.

5.   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Investing in Prevention Improves Productivity and Reduces Employer Cost. Accessed Jan. 2014. Accessed from: www.cdc.gov

6.   Berry, L.L.; Mirabito, A.M.; Baun, W.B. What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs? Harv Bus Rev. 2010; 88(12):105-112. Retrieved from: hbr.org

7.   Mattke, Soeren; Liu, Hangsheng; Caloyeras, John P.; Huang, Christina Y.; Van Busum, Kristin R.; Khodyakov, Dmitry; Shier, Victoria. Workplace Wellness Programs Study Final Report. 2013. Retrieved from: www.rand.org

8.   United States Department of Labor. The Affordable Care Act and Wellness Programs. Accessed Jan. 2014. Accessed from: www.dol.gov

9.   Schwartz, Julie. Wellness Coaching for Obesity: A Case Report. Global Advances in Health and Medicine Journal. 2013; 2(4): 68-70.