Monday, December 6, 2010

What Will It Take to Get You to Change?

Awhile ago, a multi-county survey found that it would take an average of 20% more pay for hourly employees to change companies. I've also read that other studies have confirmed that any monetary incentive needs to be at least 10% in order to be considered a sufficient motivation to change behaviors. I remember clearly some discussions at a staff meeting where some managers said they would work really hard at getting a Superior rating on their performance review, with the reward being 4% of their pay. I challenged them on their sincerity in their reply.

We are creatures of habit. My wife will complain that I'm "always late" if I'm really late once every two weeks. It's a Habit of Perception. 90% of heart disease patients do not change their lifestyles. They continue their sedentary and poor-eating lifestyles that got them in trouble in the first place.

Alfred Kohn argues that incentives don't motivate us anyway. At one company, we discovered that through our wellness programs. No matter what the incentive, those that already have a healthy lifestyle will continue it. Those that don't have one won't change because of a bauble they could get from participating. Anecdotally, there are many people accepting the $20/month reimbursement from the health insurance companies for "exercising" 12 times per month. The anecdotes claim that people aren't actually exercising; they are signing in and leaving soon after. The incentive was enough for them to change their travel enough to stop in and sign in. But not enough to actually exercise. Those that do are motivated by their own desire to be fit.

We put in a program to stop rewarding participation in wellness programs, and reward health results. You can fake participation but it's harder to fake results. (It was set up legally so there were mechanisms to avoid discrimination, HIPAA issues, ADA, etc.) We communicated a lot over several years about the overall goal and the many reasons we were emphasizing wellness: health care costs, productivity, life improvement, family well-being, longevity, enjoyment, etc. We were successful in that we were able to reduce risk factors by 10% overall in one year. Physician and Emergency Room visits decreased. Prescription drug use declined.

We have created an atmosphere of improvement around the organization. Wellness was just one aspect. We could leverage the power of employee ownership too. We could point out that poor health was costing everyone in the organization, whether they were on the insurance plan or not. For more information about employee-owned companies' best practices around wellness, see National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) publication "Wellness Programs and Employee Ownership" (

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