Why Discounts Alone Don’t Engage Employees

We all know someone who’s joined a discount gym. “It’s only $10 per month,” they said. “What have I got to lose?” If this model is proof of anything, it’s that the enticement of a discount isn’t a behavior modifier. Sure, when there are health and fitness clubs in the world charging up to $200 monthly, getting access to cardio and strength equipment for just an Alexander Hamilton seems like a no-brainer. So why aren’t you going?

Your friend’s way of thinking is exactly how these health clubs make their money- they bet against you. Knowing that the holidays are always right around the corner, gyms do a great job of marketing toward your guilt. You’ve been eating decadent foods, maybe imbibing more than usual, and definitely not being as active as you should since you can’t feel your toes when you step outside. You get caught up in the “New Year, New You” buzz and probably attend the gym for the first month, maybe two if you’re really determined. And then, inevitably, the drop-off: life gets in the way, and since you feel obligated to exercise rather than excited to, you wind up just subsidizing the cost of membership for the people who attend regularly. The “what have I got to lose” mentality takes over, and you realize that loss aversion doesn’t really work for you when it’s only $10 at stake. You can easily forget about that money (and the elliptical that you dreaded) because it’s not really enough to miss each month.

If the budget-friendly membership doesn’t get people exercising, then what do we do? The answer may not seem groundbreaking, but believe us when we say it’s powerful: intrinsic motivation (or doing something because you enjoy it). If your friend doesn’t eat beef, would you cook them filet mignon for dinner? Of course not, so why would you try to force a specific activity on yourself that you know you don’t enjoy? Exercise, like eating habits, is not one-size-fits-all. Meet yourself where you are: nightly walks with a friend (four or two-legged) are a great place to start if you’re new to physical activity. You may enjoy bike riding to feel that giddiness and freedom that you loved as a child. Maybe throwing yourself a 30-minute dance party in your pajamas is more your speed (no judgement here). As evidenced by the New Year’s resolutioners’ rise and fall in fitness attendance, we know that quick fixes fail. The key to progress is consistency (read: stick-to-it-iveness).

How does this equate to workplace wellness? If your organization is still packaging discounted gym memberships as a “wellness program,” it’s time to modernize and expand. Countless studies have shown that a comprehensive wellness program based on employee engagement increases loyalty, boosts productivity, decreases healthcare spend and absenteeism, and helps define company culture (which is now quantifiable). Your employees (since they’re human like the rest of us) want to know that you care about their well-being. One major way to show this is through the use of health and wellness technology. In an engagement-based program your organization can reward employees for being active, which not only shows that you care about their physical health, but also their mental state. In an article penned by professors in the Psychology Department of Brandeis University, researchers found that “…rewards seem to be an effective strategy for increasing physical activity[.] Incorporating monetary[…] or other meaningful rewards into fitness technology may lead to greater motivation and engagement in reaching individual goals.”1

You’re going to have employees who are marathoners, triathletes, crossfitters and yogis- those people are going to continue their activities regardless of what the company offers. But for the remaining population who could use a little help reducing health risk factors, elevating their mood, being more engaged and productive, and being more active, a fitness reimbursement benefit centered around intrinsic motivation may be just what they need.