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Wellnes Program: How The Wrong Kind Of Incentives Can Do More Harm Than Good

Introduction Honeywell International Has An Employee Wellness Program, As Do Most Large...


Honeywell International has an employee wellness program, as do most large and medium-sized companies in America.

One way companies encourage involvement in these programs is by offering incentives, both positive and not so much so.

Honeywell’s Play or Pay Incentives

Honeywell uses both negative (i.e.,financial penalties) as well as positive incentives to spur employee involvement in its wellness offerings. The company wants to encourage employees to undergo screenings and other assessments. Such procedures are nearly universal in corporate wellness, a six billion dollar industry. All such programs are designed to provide baselines for evaluating whether health promotion interventions lead to cost savings in the provision of worker health insurance.

Some observers believe that companies should not penalize employees who refuse to participate in wellness offerings, such as biometric screenings. When disincentives are significant, objections are raised.

Honeywell believes any objections to its disincentives are woefully out of step with the health-care marketplace and with the core intent of the Affordable Health Care Act. The incentives we provide are specifically sanctioned by two separate federal statutes, including the ACA, and are in strict compliance with them. We don’t believe it’s fair to the employees who do work to lead healthier lifestyles to subsidize the healthcare premiums for those who do not.

The Honeywell negative consequences include a $500 surcharge on medical plan costs, loss of as much as $1,500 in company contributions to health savings accounts and, if found guilty of being a smoker, having to fork over another $2,000 in tobacco-related surcharges.

Biometric Screens

A Kaiser Family Foundation study released six months ago found that 80 percent of workers support wellness programs, though 62 percent do not favor negative incentives such as higher rates on those who don’t participate. Slightly more than half of companies with 200 employees include biometric screening, but only eight percent penalize resisters.

What is it about biometric screenings that are off-putting to some employees? Does the company impose Draconian requirements not standard in other corporate wellness endeavors? Do company wellness leaders demand rectal exams or colonoscopies? How about brain scans, Ebola testing or procedures wherein anesthesia or unusual indignities are involved? No, a review of numerous news accounts suggests the biometric screens sought by Honeywell are standard protocols – no big deal, just a little taking of blood here and there to test cholesterol and glucose levels and skin folds measures to assess body mass indexes via simple measures of height, weight and circumference.

So, why make a fuss over mere biometric screens?

I’m guessing these contretemps turn on principle – largely in opposition to the use of negative reinforcements or disincentives. Being muscled by management does not sit well with employees ill-disposed to corporate meddling in what they regard as none of company business.

But, that’s just a guess. Maybe something else in going on. I dunno.

Unpopular biometric screens could curb enthusiasm for wellness in general. (What’s even worse, this confrontation with the company program might compromise their interest in REAL wellness, should employees ever be presented with such an idea. Unless changes are forthcoming, rebellious employees might not even read my wellness books! I don’t think Honeywell managers would want that.)

Let’s be frank – so-called worksite wellness programs are not designed to boost quality of life. If quality of life enhancements were to occur sparked by insights or resolutions following medicalized wellness offerings, I’m sure that would be fine with Honeywell leaders, but improved well-being for its own sake is not the primary goal of the program. The irony is that risk reduction-based programming does little to none of that. Evaluations of worksite health promotion focus on cost savings for health insurance expenditures, not quality of life enrichment.The latter is not even addressed in program evaluations.

There needs to be another, better approach to worksite wellness.

Friends, countrymen and wellites, lend me your ears, I come not to bury Honeywell nor to praise it, but to offer a course correction for harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding.

The Solution: Shift from Risk Measurement to Wellness Promotion and from Penalties to Rewards

Without any ado, let alone further ado, here’s what needs to happen:

Honeywell management should:

Make biometric screenings optional – remove penalties or disincentives for non-submission to screening and anything else. Data collected from biometric assessments are of very limited value, not even closely worth the resistance and negativity they generate.

Make peace with the employee resisters. Go to extra lengths to show goodwill and an absence of lingering resentments. Restore benefits denied during the initial program phase when penalties for non-testing were levied.

Find ways to include resistance leaders in leading roles in the new era of Honeywell REAL wellness.

Introduce the new era. Make REAL wellness the foundation and substance of the Honeywell wellness program. The goal is not less sickness, medical management or even better physical health indicators related to weight, body mass, less absenteeism and the like. The goal should be creating programs, cultures and other ways whereby employees gain greater knowledge about, interest in and initiatives toward multiple forms of psychological well being – such improvements as better decision-making skills, increased happiness and joy in their lives, added optimism, more confidence and enthusiasm for life purposes and passions, enhanced freedoms of thought and expression and greater support at home and work for the work they do the time they – and so on.

To paraphrase the words of an eloquent president half a century ago, all this will not be finished in the first one hundred days of Honeywell REAL wellness. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the work-life of current employees, or even perhaps in our and their lifetimes on this planet.

But let the REAL wellness era begin at Honeywell International.

In your hands, Honeywellians, will rest the ultimate success or failure of company wellness endeavors.

Good luck – don’t settle for imitation wellness or the mediocrity of risk reduction and biometric screenings. Observe, investigate, experiment and demonstrate the realities and benefits of the world of exuberance inherent in REAL wellness.