Wellness programs have been around for decades, and their benefits are well-documented. Research shows they are responsible for a 28 percent reduction in sick days, a 26 percent reduction in health costs, and a 30 percent decrease in workers' compensation and disability management claims. If designed well (e.g. based on population health analytics, etc.), companies can potentially save $5.93 for every dollar invested.
Wellness initiatives and contests have been taken to a new level in recent years, with the emergence of wearable fitness trackers. On the surface, it seems that these trackers would eliminate any tendency to exaggerate activity performance, compared to using manual logs. However, where there's a will, there's a way. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently reported on wellness cheaters. What does cheating on workplace wellness contests say about the cheater?
Is it Really Fraud?
So an employee fastened his Fitbit to his dog to get some extra steps. It's a pretty creative solution, and a bit humorous, but is it really fraud?
Consider this wellness fraud case. Seven employees were able to defraud their company out of over $300,000 in gift cards that were used as incentives for fitness activities. If the point of a wellness program is to save the company money, cheating defeats the purpose.
Note that this fraud was committed by only seven employees. It was not the result of hundreds of employees scooping a little out of the pot. This could easily be any small business wellness program. The WSJ uncovered employees using power tools, pets, household appliances, even ceiling fans, to add extra steps to their activity trackers. And, the cheaters span all levels of employees. One CFO was caught attaching his Fitbit to his ankle and constantly tapping his foot during meetings to keep the steps counting.
Look Beyond the Cheating
Most wellness challenge cheating is not as serious as the examples above. While dishonesty must be addressed, it's important to look beyond the cheating. Why are employees tempted to cheat? It's not always because they are devious or highly competitive people. Here a two reasons they might be impelled to cheat.
They are disengaged.Research shows that less ethical employees are more inclined to act morally if they are engaged at work. However, the latest Gallup poll found that only 32 percent of employees are engaged at work.
The solution to honesty isn't more surveillance or employing scare tactics. It is simply encouraging organizational citizenship through engagement. When employees feel valued, like they are part of a team, they are less likely to betray that team, whether that means embezzling funds or simply lying about their fitness activity.
A culture of honesty is not promoted.We all like to think we are honest, but are managers really setting a good example? When employees see their managers being honest, even when it's not in the manager's best interests, it sets the bar high.
Have formal programs in place, like a whistleblowing policy. This sends a message that inappropriate conduct is not tolerated, and honesty is protected. Honesty also thrives in a selfless culture. Does your organization promote a team approach, or do policies and friendly competitions pit employees against each other? Create a culture that values employees that make decisions for the greater good.
“If you don’t trust people to exercise with each other, how do you trust people to do real, important work?” asked one CEO interviewed by the WSJ. While it's reasonable to not fire a highly productive employee over a minor indiscretion, like cheating on a fitness challenge, it's important to examine the underlying reasons your employees aren't being honest. Does the problem go beyond the wellness program? How can you create a more honest environment?
Talk to the experts at the JP Griffin Group to learn more about how to maximize your employee benefits, including wellness programs. Contact us today.