September 04, 2017
Wellness programs at a workplace in the US receive an Apple Watch for just $25 to participate. But they must meet monthly fitness goals over 2 years, or pay the full price.
The deal, offered through the Vitality Group, a health-services firm, is the latest attempt by employers and wellness companies to encourage workers to move more, be more active and, it is hoped, save on health costs.
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, employers have dangled ever-larger incentives, from cash and gift cards to discounted insurance premiums, to motivate workers to get fit.
In the US, companies spent an average $693 per employee on wellness programs in 2015, up from $594 in 2014, according to research from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health. The study found that most employers use incentives to encourage workers to participate in screenings and health-risk assessments that allow firms to gather data about workers’ health and potential ailments.
Fitbit Inc. says it has more than 1,000 corporate customers that provide the trackers to employees. Last fall, for instance, TargetCorp. offered free or discounted Fitbits to its 335,000 U.S. employees to get them walking and moving more.
UnitedHealth Group Inc. announced it will equip workers with a custom fitness tracker, allowing its customers’ employees to earn up to $1,460 annually for meeting daily movement goals.
In the Vitality program, participating employees who pay a $25 activity fee will receive an Apple Watch. They then pay up $13.50 every month for two years, unless they meet certain individualized fitness goals, such as walking 10,000 steps a day or logging a certain number of minutes of exercise during a given period, says Adrian Gore, Discovery’s chief executive and founder. If workers meet the goals their monthly payments can be reduced to zero.
Only Vitality sees Apple Watch data on individuals, says Mr. Gore. Vitality reports the aggregate data to employers, with information such as participation rates and fitness achievements.
The wellness programs work under the behavioural economic principle of loss aversion—the idea that people are more motivated by the threat of potential losses than the possibility of reward. A new study by Mitesh Patel, an assistant professor of the University of Pennsylvania’s business and medical schools, found that for nearly 300 participants in a wellness program, the threat of having a reward taken away was more effective than not earning one in the first place.
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