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Punitive approach may harm morale


EMPLOYERS SHOULD BE WARY of using financial penalties to prompt workers to lead healthier lifestyles.

As we report on page 1, at least one employer plans to charge those employees it deems unhealthy more for health care if they fail to give up smoking, lose weight, or lower their cholesterol or sugar levels.

This is a significant departure from the traditional approach to tackling wellness issues, which usually has involved offering a variety of incentives for all employees to live healthier lives.

The newly announced punitive approach, though, is perhaps the logical extension of more targeted efforts in which employers insist that all employees not use tobacco.

In an era where every cent spent on health care is under scrutiny, such approaches may have a certain appeal for many employers that believe they are simply saving money while helping employees do the right thing for their health.

There are, however, some troubling aspects to this policy. For example, certain physical conditions, such as obesity, have been linked by some studies to other complex conditions, such as depression. In such circumstances, it is inappropriate to have policies that seem to suggest that obese people simply need to lay off the Twinkies.

Regardless of whether the inequities are imagined or real, employers may find that the policies lead to morale problems, which in turn could lead to higher costs in other areas.

Staying with the wellness carrot and forgetting about the stick may be the best approach.