More and more, companies are stepping up to fill that void by consistently reaching their population of employees (and their families) across the full continuum of health, including those who do not seek care.

Congruent with their own corporate culture and strategy, companies develop and maintain a wide variety of programs to serve tens of thousands of employees wherever they are. Investments are made to identify, communicate, implement, integrate and evaluate physical activity, weight management, chronic condition management, tobacco cessation, stress management, financial well-being and other employee services which are offered on-site, online, telephonically and in community settings. Some of these are internally developed, although most are in partnership with health plans and other organizations.

To attract employee attention and promote participation, most employers offer financial incentives for healthy practices or good health outcomes such as blood pressure within nationally recommended guidelines, or both. Annual incentive amounts are increasing, with the median amount rising to $600 per employee this year, according to a survey done by Fidelity and our organization.

Outcome-based incentives

Roughly three in four large companies currently use some type of health and wellness incentive with many of those linking the incentive award to one or more specific health outcomes. This is a trend that will continue over the next several years.

"Roughly three in four large companies currently use some type of health and wellness incentive with many of those linking the incentive award to one or more specific health outcomes. This is a trend that will continue over the next several years."

The most frequently targeted health outcome or goal is becoming tobacco-free. In fact, the majority of the nation’s largest companies provide either an incentive for not using tobacco or a penalty for use. The incentive may be earned, or penalty waived, by participation in a company-paid tobacco cessation program. In addition, achieving or making progress toward recommended guidelines for BMI, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol may be part of an outcome-based incentive program. In every case, “reasonable alternative” pathways to earn the same incentive are offered to employees who may be unable to achieve a particular outcome for health reasons.

These outcome-based incentives complement the growing use of high deductible health plans which promote consumerism and responsible use of medical resources. An emphasis on employee self-care and lifestyle management reinforces the consumer mindset needed to manage in the present health care environment.

The bottom line

Rewarding progress toward or achievement of better health is compelling given the cost and productivity impact of behavior-linked and potentially modifiable health risks such as poor diet, sedentariness and lack of exercise, unhealthy weight and tobacco use. The significant cost burden of lifestyle-related disease and disability, including type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease, is distributed among all employees and their employer; it seems appropriate that those willing to take steps to maintain better health should benefit. And despite much misinformation, the costs of an outcome-based incentive program by regulation are paid by those who choose not to participate. Incentives must also be available to those who are not able to participate.

While each company’s strategy looks a little bit different, the common theme of recognizing a value on investment in employee health comes through loud and clear. Through a human capital management lens, companies are beginning to analyze the impact of moving the health and well-being needle on standard business performance metrics like customer service levels, same store sales, and profitability.

The bottom line — companies view the investment in health and well-being no differently than investments in learning, development, training and safety; it’s good business to attract, retain and have the best intellectual, creative and productive talent possible.