Study: Lack of employee motivation a key challenge for health-conscious employers

A recent survey by global human resource consultant Aon Hewitt indicates that employee motivation is the main challenge faced by employers trying to implement corporate wellness programs in order to combat increasing healthcare costs.

A total of 56 percent of the more than 1,000 employers who took part in Aon Hewitt’s 2011 Health Care Survey indicated that they would like to improve employee health habits, and just under half expressed interest in lowering the healthcare cost trend. Other aims included raising awareness about particular health issues, increasing participation in wellness programs and decrease workers’ health risks.

Although many companies are driven toward accomplishing these goals, the results of the survey indicate that the same cannot be said about their employees, with 56 percent of respondents identifying motivation to change unhealthy habits as a key sticking point.

Other challenges identified by respondents include concerns about the unpredictability of costs, complying with government regulations and managing the health of an aging workforce.

In an effort to jump the hurdle of worker motivation, companies are looking into adopting employee incentive programs. Although less than one-quarter of respondents reported that they will have programs that offer employee rewards for achieving health goals in place by the end of 2011, 64 percent said they planned to implement incentives for good health by 2016. Nearly half indicated that they plan to address the reluctance to make changes head-on, by launching programs that penalize unhealthy, modifiable behavior such as smoking within the next five years.

Currently, one-third of respondents said they incentivize employee participation in biometric screenings and health risk assessments, and 5 percent reported penalizing workers who do not take part in these initiatives. Two-thirds offer monetary incentives for favorable behavior, and 8 to 9 percent said they instituted monetary penalties.

“In a challenging economy, organizations are using financial incentives as a mix of rewards and penalties, to motivate behavior change,” said Jennifer Boehm, principal in the Aon Hewitt Health & Benefits Practice, who was one of the survey’s project leaders. “However, leading employers also recognize that success requires more than just dollars. Those organizations also focus on marketing health improvement services, eliminating barriers to needed care and measuring the impact of specific interventions.”

Employers looking to jumpstart their corporate health programs often use initiatives like the National Association for Health & Fitness’ Employee Health & Fitness Month to capture workers’ interest.