A joint IRF and Incentive Gift Card Council study found that incentive program planners believe gift cards have more impact and better ROI than cash.

Wellness and Safety Programs Expand to Embrace Employee Wellbeing

HR managers can leverage their position in highlighting the value of employees and use their knowledge and skills to drive positive outcomes.

There is emerging evidence that many work-related factors and health factors outside the workplace greatly influence the safety and health problems confronting today's workers. Traditionally, workplace safety and health programs have been divided not only by program objectives, managing departments but budgets as well. Safety programs have focused on reducing worker exposure to risk factors in the work environment itself. And most workplace wellness programs have focused on reducing or managing off-the-job lifestyle choices that place workers higher in risk categories.

A growing number of research and surveys support the effectiveness of incorporating these efforts into a more holistic approach that addresses an employee's overall well-being. Employee health status directly influences employee work behavior, attendance, and on-the-job performance. Therefore, developing healthier employees will result in a more productive workforce.

Comprehensive employee well-being programs are not limited to managing safety and health risk factors, but also promoting the emotional, social and financial well-being of the employee as well. These programs are being put into practice by:1

  • Engaging employees
  • Adopting healthy benchmarks and metrics
  • Supporting workers' financial security aspirations
  • Aligning meaningful incentives
  • Helping people get the best of a work-life balance

HR professionals play a pivotal role in health and work behavior management. Programs that are closely integrated with related human resource functions, such as health care benefits administration, employee assistance programs and worker's compensation, tend to positively benefit when administratively situated in HR. HR managers can leverage their position in highlighting the value of employees and use their knowledge and skills to drive positive outcomes. They can help by making sure the organizational culture is suitable for building and sustaining a proactive, employee-centered well-being program and its affiliated policies, incentives and strategies within an integrated HR network.

Some research suggests a combination of financial and non-financial incentives have the greatest effect on workers' productivity.2 The right mix of financial and non-financial incentives, combined with quality wellness programs and a healthy and safe work site culture, can generate valuable business results.

Appropriate criteria for employees to earn incentives should be taken into careful consideration. Usually you will need to include HR and benefits managers in this process. Studies published by the Association of Psychological Science found that employees felt threatened by wellness programs with penalties and preferred incentive-based policies. There have been a lot of recent changes with the Affordable Care Act and other compliance regulations, so you'll need to ensure your program and incentive plan complies with all local and federal laws. Whatever structure and design you choose for your program, remember to establish the incentive on the desired behavior you want to achieve.

Standard questions to address when selecting the incentives include:3

  • Is it realistically achievable?
  • Is the performance level based on business-specific metrics and KPIs?
  • Are incentive-targeted programs easily available to employees?
  • Is there a system in place to provide regular feedback to employees?

When planning your program, consider the type, variety, and timing of incentives. Incentives that offer choice and variety will be more effective in motivating and sustaining long-term employee participation. When it comes to budgeting for financial rewards, you should start with modest budgets that can be gradually increased, if needed to boost or maintain participation. Tracking and reporting the impact of incentives on participation will guide your continuing program strategies. If participation rates drop, you can more quickly identify the need to increase the budget for financial rewards or adjust your financial to non-financial incentive mix.

Companies have a wide range of options when it comes to motivating, recognizing, and rewarding employees for goal achievement or behavior change, ranging from gift cards to merchandise, cash bonuses, travel, or even prime parking spaces. On the surface, cash and gift card awards might seem interchangeable, but recent research shows that gift cards increasingly outperform cash as workplace rewards and employee motivators. Financial incentives are popular with nearly every demographic category, however, providing ongoing cash incentives and rewards may not be financially sustainable in the long term or scalable to other programs and departments. And cash incentives lose their effectiveness for long-term programs.

Gift cards are increasingly popular among both employers and employees. In a joint 2011 study, the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) and the Incentive Federation found that 65 percent of surveyed firms include gift cards in their rewards programs and 26 percent of firms exclusively use gift cards as workplace awards. This is more than four times greater than companies that exclusively award cash.4 And eight of 10 employees have stated they prefer gift cards over other incentives.5

A joint IRF and Incentive Gift Card Council study found that incentive program planners believe gift cards have more impact and better ROI than cash. Unlike cash, businesses can personalize gift cards, and they also offer great branding opportunities.6 Almost 70 percent of HR personnel in a 2012 survey reported that gift cards for merchandise are either extremely effective or effective at increasing employees' engagement at work.7 Gift cards simultaneously offer recipients the flexibility of cash and the opportunity to treat themselves without feeling guilty. Cash is simply extra cash—it might go toward bills or sit in a bank account, while gift cards are an attractive way for workers to earn a luxury item.8

Finding a universal gift card reward would give you the best benefits of gift cards without the hassle. A universal gift card reward can be personalized and branded for your company or reward program. They can provide managers the tracking and reporting capabilities you need to know which managers are giving rewards, which employees are receiving rewards and all the details needed for payroll and tax compliance. Employees benefit by redeeming their choosing the gift they want and managers benefit from easier distribution, tracking and reporting.

Incentives are a tool to motivate change and should be used in conjunction with quality health and safety programs. Strong leadership and support for a healthy and safe work culture and employee communications are essential for incentives to work.

Employee Well-being is a Long-Term Strategy
A successful well-being program will have long-term strategy and objectives. It must first be part of a well-communicated, company-wide strategy backed by executive leadership.

Bringing employee engagement and well-being together helps companies maximize productivity. Employees are more likely to thrive overall in a corporate culture where well-being and engagement is supported by formal programs. Employees who are thriving are, in turn, more likely to boost individual, team, and organizational performance.

Well-being supports employees and their families in ways that enable the employee to support the business and its customers. Companies need to look at the work experience from the employee’s viewpoint and consider whether workplace culture, policies, and structure are supporting their employee’s well-being or detracting from it.

1. Chenoweth, Ph.D., FAWHAP, David. "Promoting Employee Wellbeing, Wellness Strategies to improve Health, Performance and the Bottom Line." SHRM Foundation, 2015, pp. 1-2.
2. Stajkovic, A., & Luthans, F. Behavioral management and task performance in organizations: Conceptual background, metaanalysis, and test of alternative models. 2003. Personnel Psychology, 56, 155–194.
3. Chenoweth, Ph.D., FAWHAP, David. "Promoting Employee Wellbeing, Wellness Strategies to improve Health, Performance and the Bottom Line." SHRM Foundation, 2015, pp. 22.
4. Dickinson, A., Einarsson, Y. and Je‑rey, S. "The Use of Reward and Recognition Awards in Organizations." Incentive Research Foundation and the Incentive Foundation, 2011, pp. 6-8. http://theirf.org/direct/user/site/0/les/2011-PhaseiiStateofNonCashAwardUseinUS%20-%20Final.pdf
5. Palmer, A. "IRF Study: Recipients Greatly Prefer Gift Cards to Cash." Incentive magazine. May 8, 2012. http://www.incentivemag.com/Gift-Card-Programs/Retail/Articles/IRF-Study--Recipients-Greatly-Prefer-Gift-Cards-to-Cash/, "It's In the Cards: An In-Depth Look at PrePaid Cards in Incentive, Rewards & Recognition Programs." Incentive Research Foundation. 2012. http://theirf.org/Prepaid-Gift-Cards-in-Incentive-Reward-and-Recognition.6087263.html
6. Schweyer, A. "It's in the Cards: An In-Depth Look at PrePaid Cards in Incentive, Rewards & Recognition Programs." Incentive Research Foundation and Incentive Gift Card Council, 2012, p. 8. http://theirf.org/direct/user/site/0/_les/Its%20in%20the%20Cards%20ver%20April%2020.pdf
7. "HR Perspectives on Non-Cash Rewards and Recognition in the New Economy." HR.com, 2012, p. 7. http://www.madisonpg.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/WP_IHR_HRPerspectivesNnCshRwrdsRec_20120927.pdf
8. "Corporate Incentives - 10 Reasons Why Gift Cards are More Compelling than Cash." Incentive Gift Card Council. http://www.usegiftcerti_cates.org/associations/3747/_les/IGCC_WhitePaper_GiftCardsOverCashWEB.pdf

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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