a survey from the national business group on health and fidelity asked employers to shed some light on their approach to incentives.

based on phone surveys and responses from 121 companies, NBGH and fidelity learned:

  • incentive amounts have risen at all companies. the average incentive for companies with between 5,000 and 20,000 employees is now $661, up from $493 in 2014. companies with more than 20,000 employees offer $878, on average, up from $717.
  • planned use of penalties for not completing a health risk assessment or getting one’s biometrics is experiencing a downward trend. planned use of penalties for not quitting tobacco or completing a tobacco cessation program remains unchanged.
  • fewer than half of employees (47%) collected any incentive and 26% collected a partial amount.

the percentage of employees disregarding wellness programs has remained fairly constant, despite the rising dollars on the table. while fidelity calls increasing participation “the next challenge,” i’d say it’s an old and ongoing one, and one not necessarily solved through incentives.

read the official press release.


this post reviews the connection between increased wages and better business and employee health. for more on the topic, listen to february’s cohealth checkup, for which we’re joined by economist jan zilinsky and restauranteur bobby fry. this show will be available here beginning february 4th at noon EST.  

in 2014, the movement to increase wages for low-paid jobs continued, with companies such as ikea, gap, and starbucks moving on their own to raise their employees’ pay. they joined other businesses—costco being an oft-cited example—that have made this move already, and were joined by connecticut and seattle, which voted to raise their minimum wage while legislation in congress stalled.

early in the new year, aetna became the first health care company to jump on the bandwagon. mark bertolini, aetna’s CEO and a thought leader on employee health and business performance, quoted the economist thomas piketty’s book on inequality as a key reason for this policy change. yes, improving its compensation and benefits package would make aetna a more attractive employer—critical as insurance becomes a more consumer-facing product. but bertolini spoke of higher intentions*:

“It’s not just about paying people, it’s about the whole social compact [sic]. Why can’t private industry step forward and make the innovative decisions on how to do this?”

washington post

bertolini is not alone in his thinking. making an equal splash early in 2015 is the leader of a much smaller outfit: bobby fry of bar marco’s in pittsburgh. bobby and his partners decided to eschew the typical low wage and tips recipe for waiters and moved all restaurant workers to a salary plus benefits model. what’s more, employees at bar marco will be guaranteed full-time hours, be given paid sick leave, and become owners.

fry, bertolini, and these other leaders recognize the connection between a living wage and higher profits. justin wolfers and jan zilinsky, two economists at the peterson institute for international economics, gathered up available evidence on the link between wages, productivity, and profitability immediately after aetna made news.

toward the bottom of their list is a bullet item on the connection between higher wages and better health. (this connection is one i pointed out in a white paper for virgin pulse, 8 considerations for increasing health engagement. and just for the record, by no means am i putting myself on par with wolfers or zilinsky.) financial woes are connected to presenteeism, absenteeism, delayed or declined health care services, discontinuation of necessary prescriptions, depression, and so much more.

after 2014–a contentious year for workplace wellness where article after article after article asked one thing: do workplace wellness programs work?—it is reenergizing and reinvigorating to see the question move from the use of money (incentives) to cajole people into actions that may have no value to the use of money in a recognized and mutually beneficial way.


* in the same announcement regarding its increased wages, aetna also announced the intention to offer an enhanced medical plan to reduce out-of-pocket costs. scant details for the plan design were made available, but there was a reference to required wellness program participation. this play-or-pay design raised shackles at the EEOC in 2014, resulting in three suits questioning the use of incentives in a way that implied wellness plan participation was mandatory. lest i be accused of wearing too rosy a set of glasses, i wanted to point out this open issue.


top 3 cohealth checkup shows of 2014

January 15, 2015

  last year was an abbreviated year for cohealth checkup, a monthly internet radio show on workplace wellness trends i cohost with carol harnett. still, there was a wealth of content, with our top three shows clocking in 2,000 to 7,000 listens. 3. health at every size: is there room in today’s wellness approach? our […]

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jumping back in

January 9, 2015

wow, i’m rusty. i actually started writing the headline for this post in title case! some of you are aware that my mother was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in august 2013. my sister-in-law was diagnosed at the same time with stage II breast cancer. in september 2013 i decided to curtail any discretionary […]

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taking a leave of absence from blogging

September 11, 2013

i’ve been AWOL for a spell and i need to make this leave more official. without being too cagey, let me share that a member of my family is experiencing serious health problems right now and my focus is on that person and my family. i’m lucky. i’m one of the few who has great […]

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how did things go so wrong with penn state’s wellness initiative?

August 22, 2013

    incentives and penalties are two sides of the same coin. how you perceive and experience them comes down to how they’re implemented and communicated. just ask penn state, and CVS before that. right now penn state (PSU) is splashed across every newspaper, blog, and social channel. what’s brought the media to their doorstep […]

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cohealth checkup: the penn state wellness controversy

August 21, 2013

in an attempt to manage health care costs and engage a larger amount of employees in their health, a growing majority of employers are shifting from incentives to penalties, participations to outcomes. these employers may be on pins and needles as they observe the media maelstrom surrounding penn state university’s (PSU) implementation of their “take […]

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communications your employees crave: hempfest doritos bags

August 20, 2013

what it is: a legitimate doritos bag with an extra message. the seattle police department (SPD) wanted to remind attendees of hempfest, an annual rally in support of the legalization of marijuana, about staying on the right side of the law—even when that law now focuses on recreational and not criminal use. instead of distributing […]

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american heart association takes a stand against sitting disease with hotseat

August 19, 2013

between june 3 and july 31, 2013, nearly 250 american heart association employees and guests took a stand against sitting disease with the help of hotseat. they walked, they tap squatted, they shoulder shrugged. and over the two-month period, 76% found themselves more mindful of their time spent sitting and 67% took more breaks each […]

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special cohealth checkup: dee edington and matthew woessner on carrots and sticks

August 10, 2013

i’m excited to announce a special cohealth checkup with dee edington and penn state professor matthew woessner. they join us for a discussion on the shift away from incentives and toward penalties to encourage healthy actions. dee edington is the founder and chairman of edington associates, LLC, the founder of and professor at the university […]

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