It’s time to rethink workplace exercise incentives involving cash.
New research shows money does little to motivate gym visits, even among people who have the intention of exercising more.
The experiment, conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers and published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, randomized about 800 new gym members into four groups.
The control group received $30 after six weeks, unconditionally. The other groups were rewarded for going to the gym at least nine times in the first six weeks of membership — with a $30 Amazon gift card, a $60 Amazon gift card or an item of their choosing from Amazon worth about $30, respectively.
Participants who were promised rewards made just 0.14 more visits to the gym in the first six weeks, on average.
Beyond that, the financial incentives had “no effect on their subsequent visit trajectories.”
It’s actually not that surprising that money isn’t a significant motivator. HR experts have known for a long time that “cash isn’t necessarily king,” as SHRM put it in 2003.
A big problem with cash rewards is that they don’t reinforce brand loyalty, according to SHRM. And because a gift of money has no value or meaning beyond its cash value, financial rewards can quickly lose motivational effect and become an entitlement.
Behavioral economist Dan Ariely argued in his 2016 book “Payoff” that financial incentives “aren’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to motivation,” Business Insider reports.
In fact, Ariely and his colleagues conducted a study that found workers who received financial bonuses for their performance ultimately performed worse than workers who received compliments or pizza from their boss.
What’s At Stake with Workplace Exercise Incentives?
Workplace wellness initiatives aren’t optional for organizations these days. Wellness programs are key to engaging employees and keeping healthcare costs down, especially as we move into the era of Wellness 2.0.
Consider these statistics:
- 80 percent of American adults do not get enough exercise
- 87 percent of large employers describe their wellness program as a leading corporate strategy
- 1 in 10 employees in exit surveys give “well-being” (or lack thereof) as the top reason for leaving their jobs
The benefits of exercise for employees go beyond physical fitness. Exercise also improves our mood and the way we think, according to the Harvard Business review article, “Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job.”
One study even showed that exercise during regular work hours may boost performance. The experiment asked 200 employees at a variety of companies to self-report their performance on a daily basis. The employees were also asked to keep track of the days they exercised. HBR reports:
“On days when employees visited the gym, their experience at work changed. They reported managing their time more effectively, being more productive and having smoother interactions with their colleagues. Just as important: They went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.”
5 Non-Cash Workplace Exercise Incentives That Really Work
If cash doesn’t reliably work, what does?
A culture of encouragement that focuses on social support, on gratitude and on meaningful non-monetary gifts.
According to Managing Your HR, three ingredients are necessary for any successful workplace wellness program.
First, enthusiastic leaders who offer a buy-in at the top and “set and personally live up to high expectations.”
Second, incentives with proven ROI and, third, a healthy workplace environment that encourages employees to include wellness habits as part of the workday.
How does that look in practice? Here are six ideas to inspire you:
1. Make It a Team Effort
Workplace wellness programs are more effective when employees are allowed to participate with their spouses. Other people, spouse or not, are one of the secrets to regular gym attendance. Fitness experts often recommend “buddying up” to increase motivation and keep each other accountable.
2. Exercise? It’s Part of the Job!
Exercise improves employee relations and job performance, according to Harvard Business Review:
“Instead of viewing exercise as something we do for ourselves — a personal indulgence that takes us away from our work — it’s time we started considering physical activity as part of the work itself.”
Does your company support exercise activities on an institutional level? Do managers prioritize time for exercise?
3. Practice Gratitude
Let gratitude guide your communication from the start when it comes to workplace exercise programs. Thank employees just for coming to an informational session, for taking the step to sign up, or for completing the first month of participation. Employee wellness is vital to your organizational health, so employees deserve your appreciation!
4. Recognize Micro-Accomplishments
It’s another busy Tuesday, it’s raining, and your employee slept only five hours last night — do you think that once-a-year insurance discount will be enough to motivate a 30-minute gym visit? Probably not. That’s why it’s important to recognize and reward micro-accomplishments throughout the year. It keeps employees motivated week in and week out.
5. Incentivize with Meaningful Gifts
Cash may feel great for a moment, but it doesn’t have a lasting or meaningful message. Workplace exercise incentives that really work reward our human need for recognition, support and appreciation. Share gifts that have a meaningful and clear connection to healthier living — like gThankYou! Fruits and Vegetables Gift Certificates.
The gift of healthy food actively supports your employees’ healthier living choices. It’s a reward they can share and enjoy with family and friends. And it communicates appreciation for their efforts.
6. Celebrate Fitness Milestones
Don’t forget the biggest exercise reward of all — being more fit! Find out what your employees feel good about and celebrate it with them! Think beyond numbers (weight, body-mass index, blood pressure) and focus on results that have actual meaning we can enjoy in everyday life: being able to climb stairs without running out of breath, lifting and carrying heavy bags of groceries, playing sports with your kids, running a 5k, improved sleep and better focus, feeling comfortable in a swimsuit, etc.
Resources for Building Everyday Engagement
We all need inspiration to build a great workplace culture. Here at gThankYou we love helping companies connect, engage with and celebrate employees.
Here are two free eBooks that will inspire and provide actionable tools to help you build a culture where workplace wellbeing thrives. Download them and start making a difference today!
1. “2017 Day-to-Day Employee Celebration Calendar” provides the tools and inspiration to build a culture of appreciation every day of the year. It includes mini-case studies, key stats and focus features on engagement trends, plus a calendar of celebrations and holidays for engaging with employees.
Be inspired! Download yours today, absolutely free.
“In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day — or to celebrate each special day.” -Rasheed Ogunlaru, coach and author
2. “Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude” unlocks the secrets to recruiting and retaining a superior workforce, increasing profits and having more fun at work.
Learn more about the science of workplace gratitude, why gratitude is so powerful in the workplace and simple techniques to improve any organization — starting now!
Here’s to a happier workplace!
About gThankYou, LLC
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