Do you remember what it felt like to answer the question correctly and receive a Tootsie Pop for your efforts in first grade? The grown up terminology for the “Tootsie-Pop tactic” is known as an “incentive”, and it has become a very popular strategy to drive wellbeing program participation and engagement. However, successful incentives require some strategic planning. Let’s take a look at how organizations can best leverage the “Tootsie Pop” tactic so that employees make meaningful contributions and leave feeling happy and healthy each day.
The Tootsie Pop tactic is successful in two ways
- It is attractive and enticing. Before the teacher opens her mouth, she has your attention and you have a desire to participate so you can “earn” the reward. You begin to taste the Tootsie Pop, your mouth starts watering, you imagine holding it in your hand; you want it! This type of external motivator is often what drives employee’s initial interest in wellbeing programs and offerings.
- It acts as a positive reinforcement of your behavior. When you earn a Tootsie Pop (i.e., the incentive), it is likely that you experienced a sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment. This is how the Tootsie Pop leads to internal motivation; the true driver of sustainable behavior change. This sense of accomplishment and confidence in your abilities leads you to continue trying. There are numerous forms of incentives; in fact, never before have employers had so many options for sparking employees’ interest in benefit offerings. Rather than going through the various types of incentives let’s take a closer look at…
2 keys to creating meaningful incentives:
- Variety: It is unlikely that one incentive type will resonate with your entire employee population. While some employees may be motivated by financial incentives in the form of an HSA contribution, others might be influenced by a fitness device prize, charitable giving opportunity or paid time off. By offering a variety of incentives, your organization can maximize employee engagement by allowing employee’s options that meet their personal goals and interests. Often we are quick to promote external motivators in the form of tangible rewards. While these are a great attention-grabber, they do not offer the long term effects that intrinsically motivating rewards deliver. For example, recognition and praise are powerful rewards that employers often underestimate. This type of incentive not only builds confidence in the individual, but it sends a message to the entire organization, that their company cares about employee wellbeing.
- Relevance: What do your employee’s value most? In order to offer relevant rewards you must have a solid understanding of your employees and their needs and interests. This might involve soliciting employee feedback through a survey or focus group. Offering relevant rewards also means attaching enough value to an incentive that employees want to pursue it. If you had said I needed to do an obstacle course and solve 100 math problems in order to be entered into a Tootsie-Pop raffle drawing, I would have said “forget it.” On the other hand, if you had said I’d earn a lifetime supply of Tootsie Pops, well you get the idea…The reward should be proportionate to the amount of action necessary to make it worth the investment.
No matter the incentives you choose, communication is always a critical piece to their success. It is important that you explain why you are choosing to incent certain activities in a way that employees will both understand and find motivating. Without proper communication, incentives can fall flat. Organizations must enlist managers to help reinforce positive messages, encourage program participation and be leaders in the wellness program. Manager’s influence up to 70% of employee wellbeing and engagement levels and what they say is heard loud and clear. Dee Edington’s research on the value of caring verifies that expressing care has an immeasurable impact on employee wellbeing and contributes positively to performance. Communicate that employees are your organization’s greatest asset along with informing them about the wellbeing program.
Designing your incentive structure around the things most important to your unique workforce will allow for the greatest impact. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Presenting a variety of options, offering relevant rewards and communicating the why behind your efforts will help you get the most bang for your incentive buck.