Loss Beats Gain to Motivate Employee Fitness
Employers who are interested in “bribing” their workers into a healthier lifestyle may be going about it all wrong.
Wellness programs that encourage employees to become more physically active are one way many companies try to lower the health insurance costs they pay. They will be interested to know that a study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has found an interesting thing about financial incentives to workers.
The effectiveness has very much to do with just how those incentives are framed. As a motivator of exercise, it seems fear of losing money works better than having the opportunity to win it.
Researchers studied 281 overweight and obese employees from a single organization and gave them the goal of achieving 7,000 steps a day for the duration of the trial. That’s roughly 40 percent more than the 5,000 steps per day that Americans average.
The participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: a gain incentive group, a lottery incentive group, a loss incentive group and a control group. The control group received no financial incentives for achieving the goal.
In the gain incentive group, people received $1.40 for every day they achieved the goal ($42 per month), while participants in the lottery incentive group were included in a daily lottery each day they met their goal (the prize averaged to $1.40 each day that the goal was achieved). Those in the loss incentive group were given $42 at the start of a month and then had $1.40 taken away each day they did not meet their goal.
In the end, the gain incentive group and the lottery incentive group did no better than the control group that got no incentives at all. In those three groups, participants achieved their daily goal 30-35 percent of the time.
However, the loss incentive group (that had $1.40 taken away from their $42 monthly pot each time they failed to meet their daily goal) performed much better than the other three groups -- reaching their daily goal 45 percent of the time. That’s nearly a 50 percent better than the other groups.