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Six ways to incentivise healthy behaviour in the workplace

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Six ways to incentivise healthy behaviour in the workplace

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to employee health.

Although it is essential businesses establish appropriate benefits and procedures to manage sickness absence, it is perhaps more important to put measures in place that help to limit occurrences in the first place.

Such a proactive approach requires a long-term view on workplace health. This means working with employees to help them live generally healthier lives, making them less prone to injury or illness.

But this can prove extremely tricky. It is often tough to change ingrained lifestyle habits, especially if no incentive is offered for individuals to alter their behaviour.

Consequently, schemes that reward employees for making positive lifestyle changes have become commonplace in the US, as organisations look to reduce everyday medical insurance claims.

Although the nature of the UK’s healthcare system makes the need less pressing, a study by the Daily Telegraph revealed poor lifestyle choices cost British businesses £58bn a year in lost productivity.

Such schemes can help to boost productivity, tackle sickness absence and improve engagement, so here we provide six steps for introducing an appropriate incentive programme.

1. What do you mean by ‘healthy’ behaviour?

As with any scheme of this kind, it is important to start by defining objectives and goals. Think about what you want to achieve – whether a reduction in sickness absence, improved productivity or better staff morale – and then identify what healthy behaviours are most aligned to these goals.

Aims such as reducing smoking and losing weight might appear obvious but it is also important to ensure goals don’t become too narrow. If you focus on a small number of highly specific goals, what incentive is there for staff to which they do not apply?

Other areas to target could be body mass index (BMI), alcohol consumption, sleep or exercise frequency. Using absence data and employee feedback, identify where you believe improvements will have the greatest impact and start there.

2. Look to the long term

Targeted short-term schemes can often be the most successful in terms of achieving employee engagement, as it is easier to maintain activity levels during a short spell of intense focus.

For example, you may look to challenge staff to see who can lose the most weight or complete the most steps ahead of a defined deadline. But the problem with short-term schemes is that employees can easily fall back into old habits following completion.

This means it is important to sustain activity in the long term, supported by education and communication around healthcare issues.

An area for focus might be determined at the beginning of each year – such as nutrition – with staff given a series of specific, shorter-term challenges under this umbrella. This will help to ensure continual focus and give you a better chance of reaching employees who may be harder to engage.

3. A competitive edge

Healthy competition is a useful tool in securing employee engagement around health initiatives, as most of us find competition naturally compelling.

However, it is also important to remember that certain health issues can be quite sensitive, such as weight, so individual competition may make employees feel scrutinised or under pressure. Instead it might be more appropriate to encourage teams to compete against one another, blending competition with collaboration.

This approach can have increased benefits in terms of employee engagement as opposed to a straightforward financial incentive offered to staff for reaching specified targets. Employees will be encouraged to work together to improve overall wellbeing, helping to foster a positive attitude towards health.

The incentives themselves may be anything from a fun forfeit completed by senior management to leisure perks or financial bonuses.

4. Charity begins at work

To reinforce the positive social impact of incentive schemes, it can help to add a charitable element.

This might be as simple as staff being awarded a donation to the charity of their choice as the result of hitting health targets. But, looking more widely, incentive schemes might even be integrated with the organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

For example, employees could be encouraged to raise money for charity through health-related challenges, such as marathons, cycling sportives or mountain climbs. This can have the dual effect of encouraging staff to lead healthier lives and reinforcing a company’s commitment to CSR.

Rewards might then be given to the teams that raise the most money throughout the year, helping to emphasise teamwork and cooperation.

5. Open lines of communication

It is widely accepted that effective communication is key to driving health engagement, so will be crucial to the success of any incentive scheme.

In the first instance, it is important to listen to your staff to find out what health issues they are concerned about and what barriers exist to them leading healthier lives. Then it is a good idea to establish regular communications around wellbeing issues, using tools such as social media to increase engagement.

Staff may be provided with monthly bulletins looking at different health issues, providing necessary information to help them achieve goals, or shining a light on employees who have made progress.

It may also be useful to set up an intranet portal combining wellbeing education with other useful information, including progress towards targets and upcoming incentive schemes.

6. Measuring outcomes

Return on incentive schemes can only be established if the outcomes are measured.

This might be as simple as asking staff to complete regular healthcare risk assessments or questionnaires to establish a continuous picture of their wellbeing and track changes over time.

Alternatively, technology to track wellbeing is becoming ever more sophisticated and organisations may look to integrate wearables into incentive schemes where possible.

The PMI Health Group Employee Benefits Index 2016 discovered 45 per cent of UK workers would welcome the introduction of wearables and these devices can be used to measure everything from heart rate to step count and sleep quality.

The wearable technology itself may also form part of the incentive to employees, offered free-of-charge or at a discounted rate to those who engage with wellbeing schemes.

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