An employee hands an envelope to another employee in an office. An employee hands an envelope to another employee in an office.

Wellness program incentives

“Employee well-being is front and center of every organization’s plan,” according to Korn Ferry’s Future of Work Trends in 2022.”1 For employers, there’s really no question whether or not to institute a workplace wellness program.

The challenge—now—is engagement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), engagement is commonly viewed as the level of enrollment and sustained participation in a program.2

Gartner’s 2021 EVP Benchmarking Survey reveals that although 87% of employees have access to mental and emotional well-being offerings, only 23% of employees use them. This pattern also applies to physical and financial well-being programs.3

Participation in your workplace well-being program is vital to its success. The big question is, what drives employees to be engaged and participate?


A Rand Corporation study found that employers who do not use incentives had a median employee participation rate of 20%, compared to a 40% median employee participation rate for employers who used monetary or non-monetary incentives.4

Financial wellness incentive programs

According to another recent Rand Corporation study, of the 51% of employers who offer workplace wellness programs, 69% use financial incentives as a strategy to encourage employees to use them.5

Wellness incentive programs may include cash or cash equivalents, like discounted gym memberships and novelty items, such as T-shirts or gift cards. Some companies contribute to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) that are offered as part of an existing benefits program.

Other approaches include offering tangible rewards, such as a fitness device or a catered, healthy meal, for participating in fitness challenges, weight loss or smoking cessation contests. Employees can choose to be reimbursed for pre-defined wellness expenses such as fitness classes, financial wellness planning sessions or a stress-relieving massage.

Employers also link wellness incentive programs to the employees’ share of health plan premiums, health reimbursement account contributions and plan cost-sharing. Incentives impacting the employees’ share of health plan premiums are the most popular.6

Other incentives for workplace wellness programs

There are other ways to incentivize engagement that are often easily overlooked.

For example, Gartner’s 2020 Well-Being Benchmarking Survey found that almost all organizations surveyed (96%) offered mental well-being programs. However, Gartner’s 2020 Well-Being Employee Survey revealed that less than half of employees (42%) thought their organizations offered them.7

“The first step is foundational,” according to Harvard Business Review. “HR must increase employees’ awareness and knowledge of employer-provided well-being efforts.”8

Participation can also be incentivized by removing or mitigating barriers to participation.

Stigma and apathy can be addressed by tapping senior leaders and managers who have direct reports to share their own experiences with personal well-being, and how the organization’s offerings have helped them. These testimonials can be shared in videos on the employee section of the company website, or in internal newsletters, wellness program literature or during kickoff and/or visibility meetings for wellness program events and initiatives.

Peer-to-peer employee relationships can also energize participation, providing a social incentive for involvement. Some companies recruit “wellness champions” from among their employees, offering those who are passionate about wellness to serve as volunteer educators, advocates and cheerleaders for the company’s workplace well-being program.

As far as lowering the energy cost of participation, consider default enrollment in certain workplace wellness programs to combat inertia. Design key, high-value offerings to be opt-out rather than opt-in. Enhance the convenience of participation by bringing services onsite. This can include fitness classes and educational workshops. Consider accessibility for remote employees and the diversity of onsite demands on employees in different departments.

“No matter how motivating and fun workouts can be, not everyone has the desire (or time) to exercise at the office,” says Sammy Courtright, co-founder and COO of Fitspot. “To make sure all employees have equal opportunity to engage, offer custom wellness content that employees can consume on their own time and at their own pace.”9

A barrier to participation is often created by our innate resistance to authority and to things that feel mandatory. To remove resistance and to incentivize participation, stress the voluntary nature of engagement in workplace wellness programs while simultaneously making them easy to access. Pay attention to areas where your employees are already personally incentivized and change where they need support.

Incentives for workplace wellness programs drive participation. Offering a variety and combination of incentives targeted at keeping your programs interesting and fresh will truly motivate healthy habits for your employees.

The Go365® well-being and rewards program includes intelligent incentives to keep employees engaged. Our outcomes-based approach helps people build healthy habits with staying power. From a Health Assessment, sleep diary and health calculators to getting flu shots, workouts, fitness Challenges and virtual well-being coaches, Go365 members will earn Points for everyday activities—every day.

To find out more about Go365, contact your licensed Humana sales agent or request more information about Go365’s wellness program by filling out this formOpens in new window.

Go365 is not an insurance product and is not available with all Humana health plans. This is a general description of services which are subject to change. Product features may vary by client. Please refer to Customer Support for more information.

In Kansas, Humana agents and sales representatives are prohibited from conducting pre-sale conversations with clients regarding Go365, EAP, or other value-added services.


1“Future of Work Trends in 2022,” Korn Ferry, last accessed January 11, 2022, in new window.

2“Engaging Employees in Their Health and Wellness,” CDC Workplace Health Resource Center, last accessed January 7, 2022, opens in new window.

3Carolina Valencia, “How to Get Employees to (Actually) Participate in Well-Being Programs,” Harvard Business Review, last accessed January 7, 2022, in new window.

4Barbara J. Zabawa, “Can Employers Legally Incentivize Employees to Take Better Care of Themselves?” Wellness Council of America, last accessed January 7, 2022 in new window.

5Zabawa, “Can Employers Legally Incentivize Employees to Take Better Care of Themselves?”

6Zabawa, “Can Employers Legally Incentivize Employees to Take Better Care of Themselves?”

7Valencia, “How to Get Employees to (Actually) Participate in Well-Being Programs.”

8Valencia, “How to Get Employees to (Actually) Participate in Well-Being Programs.”

9Sammy Courtright, “8 Ways to Ensure Employee Engagement in Corporate Wellness Programs,” Shortlister, last accessed January 7, 2022, in new window.