For John Roberson, motivating his 32 employees to be healthy is often as simple as rewarding them with a pair of cowboy boots. "We define wellness more liberally than others might," says Roberson, 43, president of Advent, a Nashville, Tennessee-based experiential marketing firm.
"It's about more than the physical; it's the whole person. So we encourage those things that will help not only [employees'] physical health, but their emotional well-being, too."
For one employee, the incentive was indeed a pair of cowboy boots; other rewards have included anything from guitar or yoga lessons to time with a personal trainer and even paid time off to build orphanages in Central America. "We tailor our rewards around our employees' interests," says Roberson, who purchased 20-year-old Advent in 2000 and has since grown the company's sales to an estimated $7 million in 2008.
These are the kinds of 21st century incentives that become a win-win for companies that value wellness enough to make it a corporate initiative. Seventy percent of employees age 18 and older believe incentives such as cash, gifts and extra vacation days would motivate them to participate in their companies' wellness programs and adopt healthier lifestyles, according to a 2007 survey of nearly 500 employees by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.
That equates to big savings for U.S. employers, according to The Conference Board, a business research organization. In April, it reported that obese employees cost U.S. private employers an estimated $45 billion annually. On the flip side, estimates of ROI for company-sponsored wellness programs equal up to $5 per $1 invested.
Scott D. Rosenberg, co-founder and CEO of Miro Consulting, a $25 million software licensing consulting firm in Fords, New Jersey, implemented his own version of TV's The Biggest Loser by dividing his employees into two teams that competed to lose the most weight over a three-month period. The prize: a cool $500 for each member of the winning team. Says Rosenberg, 46, "We wanted to send the message that it's important we work as a team. And if you feel better about yourself, you will be a better colleague and employee."
George DeVries, founder of American Specialty Health, a provider of corporate wellness programs, notes that the key to an effective program is making sure the company's leaders are the biggest cheerleaders for health and wellness. "The owner must be involved and encourage people to participate," says DeVries.
Andrew Ball, president and CEO of Webcor Builders, a commercial construction firm in San Mateo, California, offered a paid vacation day to employees who completed ASH's Healthyroads personal health assessment and phone-based wellness coaching program. "This [program] was effective because employees didn't have to leave the office; they could call their coach and talk, and it was all free," says Ball, 53, whose company projects sales of $1.2 billion this year.
Above all, make your employees' overall health a priority, and your company will be healthier, too. Says Roberson, "We attract employees who see we are about more than just profits."
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.