I recently read an article on a study that was done at the University of Pennsylvania in the use of different incentives to getting people to participate in workplace weight loss - Why Pay Employees to Exercise When You Can Threaten Them? The main point that was drawn from this study was that by using incentives that penalized employees were far more effective than incentives that rewarded them. There were two main problems that I found with this study. The first is that this study was based on the current model that companies use today in helping employee health status. I would argue that this model is broken and any study done on this model is going to produce results that are also broken. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 67% of American are overweight or obese, and from a macro perspective the programs that companies are implementing lack employee engagement. The engagement rate within the study of people meeting the goals regardless of incentive was low, and from this perspective I would say that the study proves this point. However, in my opinion it doesn’t get to the root of the problem, why this engagement is lacking and how that should be addressed versus putting in incentives based on a model that has proven not to work.
The other problem I have with this study is that it continues to use the outdated idea of motivation with external rewards - the carrot-and-stick approach. This is a clear lack of understanding of what motivates people. Daniel Pink wrote a tremendous book on this called Drive, which I highly recommend and speaks directly to this mistake and what truly motivates people. This also doesn’t take into account how business in changing and the trends associated with this. John Battelle recently wrong about these trends in his article BigCos, NewCos, and the Nine Trends Remaking Business. One of the main trends is that people want purpose, authenticity, and organizational structure, and you don’t get that through the carrot-and-stick approach. One of my favorite quotes is that of an African Proverb “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together”. People want to make a life, not just a living and you can’t do that unless you do it in community.
We need to improve employee engagement to improve employee health status, and our system of disease management and the traditional programs of low touch and telling employees what to do is not going to get us there. Employees need a program where someone cares about them and will go through the ups and downs of achieving success. They want to do this in community, in an environment where they enjoy being. It is obvious that healthy employees are more productive and are more valuable to an organization, but we can’t forget that when you are trying to attract and retain talent telling them what to do is much less effective versus providing them with an avenue to success. This is the problem that we at Sweat Equity Fitness are solving and gets to the root of the real issue with the current systems in place.