Give employees these 'carrots' for wellness

Incentives drive participation

Over the past few years, employees at Berkshire Health Systems in Pittsfield, MA have received raffle prizes, reduced premiums, and cash for participating in various wellness activities.

"We have found that carrots work much better than sticks in supporting program participation," says Bobbie Orsi, MS, RN, CDE, director of occupational health and wellness. "Incentives help drive high participation rates."

Incentives are given for participation in Health Risk Assessments, biometric screening with a risk-based coaching requirement, flu vaccination or declination, and online self-care modules.

Both the employee and the organization benefit. "Flu vaccination is one example of a healthy action that is also an employee safety strategy for our organization," says Orsi. "This past year, we required vaccination or declination. Our vaccination rate was 74% and our compliance rate was 98.5%."

The organization has had the greatest success with large cash raffles, "cash back" offers for program participation, and premium reductions. "The value of our incentives ranges from $350 to $700 per wellness program participant," says Orsi.

Copays are waived for mammograms and colonoscopies, and as of this year, for hypertension and diabetes medications for employees who participate in certain wellness programs.

One downside to giving cash incentives is that these are taxable, unless they are premium reductions for the employee's benefit plan. "This needs to be communicated to employees," says Orsi.

Monetary incentives are not used to reward documented behavior change. "For example, to earn the premium reduction, we cannot require that employees actually quit smoking or reduce their A1C," says Orsi. "We do require that they attend the full tobacco treatment or diabetes education program."


For more information on incentives for wellness participation, contact:

Bobbie Orsi, MS, RN, CDE, Director, Occupational Health and Wellness, Berkshire Health Systems, Pittsfield, MA. E-mail: