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NEW YORK-For $15 to $35 a month, employees at Deutsche Bank North America can work out at the Manhattan company's 5,500-square-foot fitness center, using a variety of weight and exercise machines and services.
Available free to participating employees are personal trainers, fitness assessments, headphones and the use of exercise clothing and footwear, services that most health clubs charge for. About one-third of the bank's 2,000 local employees use the center; 80% of them go at least twice a week.
"While the price is very reasonable, it's the high quality and total convenience that motivate employees to join," said Alex Sullivan, the program's director. "These incentives will keep people coming back."
The idea of giving employees incentives to partake in wellness options is catching on. Offered either by employers or health insurance providers, incentives come in many forms-from cash bonuses, discounts and free merchandise to company recognition of achieved goals. There is no consensus as to which are the best incentives, but experts agree they can only work if they fit employees' lifestyles.
"You need to offer incentives that are easy to take advantage of and that suit your employees," said Henry Moyer Jr., a partner with Hirschfeld Stern Moyer & Ross Inc., a Manhattan benefits consulting firm. "While it may be hard to measure the results of these programs in terms of actual claims reductions, having healthier and happier employees can only help your company."
The incentives need to be flexible enough to meet different employees' needs, noted Eileen Settineri, a consultant at Manhattan-based Buck Consultants.
For instance, cash reimbursement for health initiatives is a strong incentive. But a company might find that employees with young children may be more interested in using reimbursements to pay for home exercise equipment, rather than for health club memberships.
"Working families with young children may not have the time to go out to a health club, and might find it easier to exercise out of their homes," said Ms. Settineri. "Examine your employee mix, and be willing to alter your incentives if you need to."
The Wellness Councils of America, a non-profit organization for promoting corporate health initiatives, assists companies in setting up wellness programs. For $65 per company, the Omaha, Neb., organization provides handouts that can be used to structure wellness programs. They promote aerobic exercise, recreational activity and even simple movements like walking, washing a car, etc., according to a spokeswoman.
"Incentives for wellness can vary, from recognition to special prizes to an extra afternoon off," she adds. "You want to try to make them fun."
The Segal Co., a Manhattan-based employee benefit consulting firm, last year created a wellness incentive program for its employees. The program includes a $300 annual reimbursement allowance that can be used toward a host of health-related benefits, such as part of a gym membership, nutritional counseling or exercise equipment.
Carolyn Harding, manager of employee benefits for Segal, said that in the first nine months of the program's existence, one-third of the consulting company's 600 eligible employees submitted reimbursement claims.
"This is a way of both helping employees with some expenses, and changing behavior in a positive way," said Ms. Harding.
Some believe that wellness program incentives need to be especially creative in order to encourage healthier behavior.
Vytra Healthcare, a Melville, N.Y.-based health maintenance organization, in January launched a rewards program for its subscribers patterned after hotels' frequent-guest programs, says John Kaegi, senior vp of marketing.
All of Vytra's 150,000 eligible plan members are automatically enrolled in the program, called The Constellation Club. There are 29 ways of earning points, which can be redeemed for about 50 sports-and health-related items.
Immunizing a child earns 100 points, joining a fitness center has a reward of 100 points, and completing a smoking cessation program garners 1,000 points. Even giving birth has a reward of 100 points, since Vytra's philosophy is to include in the wellness program life events that make its members feel better. Prizes range from tennis rackets to one-hour massages to treadmills.
Mr. Kaegi estimates that an average health plan member will earn about 3,200 points a year. He believes that the company's health care costs will fall 10% this year as a result of the program.
"Traditional incentives like cash and discounts are not enough to get people to change their habits," Mr. Kaegi says. "You need to make the incentives high enough and different enough. We're trying to reward people for doing what they should be doing."