Understanding the Relationship Between Incentive Design and Participation in U.S. Workplace Wellness Programs

Published in: American Journal of Health Promotion, v. 30, no. 3, Jan./Feb. 2016, p. 198-203

Posted on RAND.org on January 14, 2016

by Benjamin Saul Batorsky, Erin Audrey Taylor, Haijing Crystal Huang, Harry H. Liu, Soeren Mattke

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PURPOSE: We aimed to understand how employer characteristics relate to the use of incentives to promote participation in wellness programs and to explore the relationship between incentive type and participation rates. DESIGN: A cross-sectional analysis of nationally representative survey data combined with an administrative business database was employed. SETTINGS/SUBJECTS: Random sampling of U.S. companies within strata based on industry and number of employees was used to determine a final sample of 3000 companies. Of these, 19% returned completed surveys. MEASURES: The survey asked about employee participation rate, incentive type, and gender composition of employees. Incentive types included any incentives, high-value rewards, and rewards plus penalties. ANALYSIS: Logistic regressions of incentive type on employer characteristics were used to determine what types of employers are more likely to offer which type of incentives. A generalized linear model of participation rate was used to determine the relationship between incentive type and participation. RESULTS: Employers located in the Northeast were 5 to 10 times more likely to offer incentives. Employers with a large number of employees, particularly female employees, were up to 1.25 times more likely to use penalties. Penalty and high-value incentives were associated with participation rates of 68% and 52%, respectively. CONCLUSION: Industry or regional characteristics are likely determinants of incentive use for wellness programs. Penalties appear to be effective, but attention should be paid to what types of employees they affect.

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