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What Your Employees Really Want from a Rewards Program

By Eric Mann | October 18, 2016 | Rally Health

We’re constantly trying to make things better for people here at Rally®, and we think consumer research is critical to that effort — it’s the difference between driving engagement or not. Recently, we went out to the market and talked to real people in multiple cities. We wanted to understand what motivates them, how they fit health and wellness into their lives, and what barriers they need to overcome.

We’ll be writing more about this research over the coming months, but one of the things that immediately jumped out at us is what people want from a rewards program.

Benefits leaders won’t be surprised to hear that many people find health benefits confusing. But would you be surprised to know that people often flat-out ignore messages from their insurance company? We were. But it’s not for the reason you may think.

As one Millennial told us, he hardly ever reads them. “I’m so used to reading stuff and having no idea what it’s talking about, so I wonder if I’m guilty of not paying attention to all of the great resources they’re offering me because I automatically assume it’s going to be a bunch of mumbo-jumbo I don’t know anything about.”

So what would get people to pay attention? According to our research, the two common themes across all age groups are time and money. Participants said they would be motivated by receiving time off, easy-to-understand discounts off their healthcare insurance premiums, and gift cards that weren’t confusing to obtain. Having services brought to the office – such as flu shots on-site — was also mentioned. Anything that makes it easier to fit wellness into their busy lives is a win.

So when you’re thinking about incentives, one of the best things you can do for people is save them time. This could mean providing an onsite gym, or if that’s too complicated, offer free or discounted gym memberships. Just make sure it’s a nice place and relatively close to the office. Millennials in particular said that brand name or better quality gyms were important to them.

Another way to get people to participate in wellness programs is to give them more time — an extra half hour for lunch or a flexible schedule can mean the difference between getting in a workout or not.

Keep in mind that the various age groups have different motivators. For Millennials, having a membership at a “cool” gym is an incentive. But for Gen X people with kids who value time with their families, fitness and health care that can be done during lunch breaks or are close to their offices are more valued. Baby Boomers also value time with their families, so convenience is important for them, too.

As for money, ideally you use it to support infrequent or one-time behaviors, such as getting a flu shot, downloading a health app (we recommend the five-star Rally app), or signing up for a primary care doctor. The gift card is the way to go in this case. Rather than pick a particular store, make sure it’s a card people can use anywhere and that doesn’t expire. More important, make it easy for them to understand what they need to do to get it. Complexity is an engagement killer.

Another approach is to give people a lump sum and allow them to use it for anything from gym memberships and running shoes to a bike. This encourages them to use the money to tap into things they already want to do. Mapping to your employee’s personal motivations gets the ball rolling in the right direction. Also, since there are regulations that apply to rewards, you’ll want to check with your legal team before starting or adjusting a rewards program.

But it doesn’t stop with rewards. In fact, this is just the beginning, according to Rally behavioral scientist Ezequiel Galarce. Research shows that while external rewards are fine for engaging people and getting them to start good habits, so-called intrinsic rewards — looking better, feeling better, having more energy, or being part of a community — are what keep them coming back months and years later.

“The key is in tapping into an already existing motivation,” Galarce told me. “Use external rewards to jump-start a behavior, but keep in mind, you want people to go from, ‘I do this because they pay me’ to ‘I do this because it feels good,’ or even better, ‘I do this because this is who I am.’

“A lot of workplaces focus on the first part, but you shouldn’t stop there,” he continued. “The risk is that if you treat people as selfish, financial creatures they will act like selfish, financial creatures. Eventually they get used to that money and it loses its impact.”

The best formula, he says, is to combine time with money — and money not for themselves, but for other people. Make it easier for people to go work out, and then for each gym visit, mile walked, or pound lost, trigger a donation to a favorite charity.

“It’s a financial reward but it’s completely overshadowed by feelings of altruism and feeling like a better person,” says Galarce. “Making someone feeling amazing about themselves is truly long-lasting.”

So to sum it up, offer rewards for one-time behaviors like getting a flu shot or to start people on an activity. Then use the intrinsic rewards of that activity to keep them engaged. Help them along by making it easy for them to engage in healthy behavior. Time and convenience make being healthy less of an uphill effort.

Overwhelmingly, research tells us that your employees want to be healthy and already have a sense of what is needed — they just need to fit it into their life. Your programs can help do just that.

Eric Mann heads up marketing efforts for our key partners. He has more than 20 years of technology and health care marketing experience, leading browser marketing for Netscape and product marketing for Oracle Health Science.


Eric Mann
Rally Health