Wellness programs are not new, nor is anyone debating their effectiveness. In fact, these programs have now become an expected benefit, which is no surprise.

Healthier employees are happier, more productive and more loyal to the company.

And let’s not forget the financial benefits; Harvard Business Review reports that for every dollar spent on employee wellness, medical costs fall $3.27 and absenteeism costs drop $2.73.1 That’s a 6-to-1 return on investment. Not too shabby.

The secret to a successful wellness program, however, is employee participation, an element which would cause the results (and ROI) mentioned above to vary wildly.

So how do you increase employee participation in your wellness program?


1. Incorporate Rewards

We won’t play coy, here; this is the biggie. By simply adding a rewards element and strategy to your wellness program, according to a 2012 Rand study, participation shoots up from 20% to 80%.2

Rewards, of course, can take many forms. For the complete story, download some great free info, “The Indispensable Guide to Employee Health & Wellness Rewards.” For now, we’ll just point out a few high-level options.

  • Gift cards—good on the brand names people love
  • Prepaid cards—customized cards promoting your brand—and good almost anywhere
  • Digital rewards—instant, mobile or other digital rewards for those employees who are more connected


2. Reward More Frequently

When it comes to employee motivation—especially as it relates to health-related habits—smaller, more frequent rewards are more effective than one larger, end-of-the-tunnel reward.

The New England Journal of Medicine put it this way: “A program that promotes exercise with a year-end reward for gym attendance is far less likely to succeed than one providing incentives—and symbolic encouragement—at every visit. Similar concepts apply to most health-related behaviors, such as smoking or medication adherence, for which incentives might bring immediate and frequent attention to otherwise delayed benefits.”3


3. Offer Employees a Choice

Variety is the spice of life; it’s also the spice of a well-thought-out wellness program. Giving employees a choice of rewards helps keep them engaged long-term. It also shows you understand your staff is made up of individuals; one size does not fit all. A reward that motivates one employee might turn another off.

“We’ve learned employees value choice more than any one specific reward,” said Blackhawk Network VP of Marketing Theresa McEndree, “And customizable choices such as gift cards and prepaid cards are always employee favorites.”

1. Baicker, Katherine, David Cutler, Zirui Song. “Workplace Wellness Programs Can Generate Savings.” February 2010.

2. Rand Corp, “Review of Workplace Wellness,” 2012.

3. New England Journal of Medicine, “Redesigning Employee Health Incentives—Lessons from Behavioral Economics.”

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