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Provide incentives for participation in physical activity


Most wellness programs are designed to change a health behavior such as increasing physical activity or losing weight.  Health behavior is difficult to change, and therefore, wellness program coordinators must recognize that people often need external motivators and reasons to change.  Incentives generate interest in the wellness program, offer rewards for changed behavior, and promote the company’s belief in and commitment to wellness.

Incentives are useful and effective because of their direct impact on the universal human need for personal recognition and reward.  An incentive is “an anticipated positive or desirable reward designed to influence the performance of an individual or group.”  By reinforcing behaviors and rewarding results, successful program outcomes can be achieved.  Among other things, incentives can be expected to: 1) increase program participation and completion rates, 2) provide a purpose for participants to make health behavior changes, and 3) improve long-term adherence to a behavior.


In order for an incentive to be effective, the participant needs to find it desirable and worth the effort.  Finding out what incentives motivate your participants can be accomplished in many ways including preference surveys, focus groups, structured interviews, pilot testing different incentives with small groups, or just randomly asking key people what they think.

Experts recommend that incentives be kept as small as possible while achieving program goals.  Small but effective incentives are always more cost-effective.  Smaller external incentives are more likely to help individuals internalize their new behaviors and maintain them over the long term without ongoing external rewards.  The bottom line is that participation rates will increase if an incentive is offered.

Types of incentives can be categorized as follows:

  • Achievement awards.  Verbal praise and a pat on the back are motivational to some, but a token of recognition of achievement may offer more.  A colorful certificate to congratulate an employee for achieving a health-related goal is one example.

  • Public recognition.  Most people love to see their names in print.  Publish the names of wellness program participants in your employee newsletter.  This will honor the employees who have attempted to make positive lifestyle changes and can motivate others to do the same.

  • Merchandise.  Award a t-shirt, canvas bag, cap, or an AM/FM radio to participants who sign up and/or complete a program.  Your company logo may be imprinted on these items as well.

  • Monetary rewards.  Offer an employee $10 for completing a wellness program.  Discount health insurance premiums for participants.  Reimburse employees for attending a health-related educational training seminar.

  • Food.  Offer beverages and healthy snacks to employees who participate in on-site wellness programs.  Use gift certificates to a local restaurant as door prizes.

  • Entertainment.  Hold a drawing for movie tickets, sporting events tickets, or fitness store gift certificates for participants of wellness programs.

  • Time off.  Allow employees to take an extended lunch break or a half-day of leave for completing a long-term, company-sponsored wellness program.


  • Summex Corporation:
    Using Wellness Incentives-Positive Tools for Healthy Lifestyles

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