A third of the UK workforce feel entitled to financial rewards in order to live a healthier lifestyle

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According to a recent study by Willis Towers Watson (WTW) a third (33%) of UK workers believe their employer should pay them for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The study also found that 34% of employees would only participate in a company health initiative if there was a financial incentive to do so, an increase from 26% in 2013.

Mike Blake, wellbeing lead for Willis Towers Watson, said: “The figures suggest that despite employers increasing their focus on health and wellbeing, existing schemes are not appealing to employees and, as a result, many feel they need extra motivation to participate, in the shape of financial incentives. Having a healthy workforce does, of course, greatly benefit employers, as it leads to lower levels of sickness absence, productivity loss and employee turnover, but employees reap the rewards of living healthier lives too.

Traditionally financial incentives included performance-linked bonuses, profit sharing and living or car allowances. However as more employers focus on developing an effective wellbeing strategy, contemporary rewards include ‘wellness payment’, such as health screening, physiotherapy, gym or sports club membership or spa days, in hopes of helping keep employees healthy.

“Taking care of health and worker wellbeing should be a shared priority of both employee and employer, not seen as additional workload that workers should be compensated for.” Blake adds, “Companies who struggle to engage with their employees would be wise to review their current health and wellbeing initiatives, so that they are truly valued by employees and meet their needs and personal health goals.”

The results of the study the reason for this incentive demand is linked to a lack of employee engagement with current wellbeing initiatives, as 70% of workers don’t believe they meet their needs.

Over the next three years, a third of organisations believe their strategy for encouraging healthy behaviours such as smoking cessation, weight management or increasing exercise levels, will focus primarily on direct financial incentives, an increase from 12% currently.

But Blake advised companies to be cautious about adopting such an approach.

“It is understandable that companies – particularly those who are frustrated at a lack of engagement – are tempted to offer financial incentives to their employees. But this can be a knee jerk response to problems that may require deeper answers. Employers could consider appealing to the tech-savvy, time-strapped, fitness-conscious worker, for example, by offering wearable technology subsidies, promoting the use of meditation apps and introducing health-league tables. After all, health and wellbeing programmes, as well as health-orientated benefits, are only valuable if they are utilised.”

Other employers are taking a more unorthodox approach to promoting healthy behaviour. Piala Inc, a Japanese based company grant its non-smoking staff an additional six days annual leave a year to compensate for the time smokers take for cigarette breaks. It’s already proved popular with staff, with around 30 out of 120 employees having taken extra days off. Four of the employees even decided to quit smoking for good.

“Very often companies experience an initial upsurge in engagement when they introduce new initiatives or wellness programmes, but experience shows that this can be short-lived as people get used to them over time and they lose their behavioural influence. Employers need to plan for this by attracting employees’ attention and keeping them motivated. Communication is key in achieving this. Regular, effective messaging can help reinforce the personal benefits of participation and lower the risk of complacency or disengagement.” Blake concludes.