With employee health problems and associated employer costs on the rise, many companies are looking for novel ways to improve employee wellness. A study at Cornell University examined the effect of tying 10% of manager compensation to employee wellness and found that managers were more likely to promote employee wellness when incentivized to do so, and managers also expressed a preference to work for companies with such incentives in place.
Key Topics: Workplace wellness; Employee health; Performance evaluations; Management compensation
Title of Reviewed Article: The 10% Solution: Tying Managerial Salary Increases to Workplace Wellness Actions (and Not Results)
Researchers: Rebecca Robbins and Brian Wansink (Cornell University).
Publication: Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2016, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 494-503.
Setting the Scene
In recent years, many companies have increased their focus on employee health and wellness initiatives (Linnan et al., 2008), in the belief that it will improve employee health and reduce the costs associated with healthcare (Brown, Ashcroft, & Marteau, 2011). Despite this, such initiatives often don’t achieve significant employee behaviour change (Pelletier, 2011).
Typically, such wellness initiatives have focused on changing the health-related behaviour of individual employees, such as through seminars, coaching sessions, and incentives for healthy behaviours (Lunze & Paasche-Orlow, 2013). Some experts have suggested that focusing on the individual employee has hampered the success of wellness initiatives (e.g. Sorensen et al., 2003; Wansink, 2014).
Research has shown that general supervisor support can have a number of positive outcomes for employees, such as lower stress levels and greater job satisfaction (Wolfram & Mohr, 2009), and there is a growing body of research suggesting that managers can play an active role in the success of workplace wellness initiatives (Eriksen, 2006), given their position to encourage employees to make healthy choices (van Poppel & Engbers, 2009).
This study examines if managers can be incentivized to support and promote employee health and well-being, and the researchers looked to address three primary research questions:
Research question 1 – “What are manager reactions to a policy of tying 10% or more of their annual salary increases and promotion to workplace health actions?”
Research question 2 – “What profile of managers will be attracted to companies that have a policy of evaluating managers by workplace wellness actions?”
Research question 3 – “What specific efforts do managers believe would help them improve the health of their subordinates?”
How the research was conducted
This study involved managers in the US, with more than one subordinate, from various industries (e.g. insurance, education, business of financial services, and health care) completing an online survey.
Participants were recruited via an online ‘electronic laboratory’ facility and in total, there were 270 participants.
The survey consisted of a fictitious vignette, which participants had to read before answering questions. The vignette described the workplace wellness initiatives of two companies. Both companies were similar but one engaged its managers in the promotion of employee health initiatives while the other did not.
Participants were also required to answer questions on a hypothetical wellness policy which would incentivize managers to promote workplace wellness by typing 10% or more of annual salary increases and promotion to managers’ actions to promote employee wellness.
Demographic and background information was also collected on participants.
Key Research Findings
Overall, managers were found to have more favourable attitudes towards companies with managerial evaluations for workplace wellness actions.
The majority of managers indicated that they would be more likely to leave their current employer to join a company with policies of manager wellness evaluations than for a company without such policies.
Managers indicated that they would be more likely to support and promote wellness initiatives if their performance in this area was linked to compensation.
Manager attitudes differed slightly by gender and number of subordinates, with women having more negative attitudes towards companies without manager wellness evaluations than men, while managers with greater numbers of subordinates had slightly less favourable attitudes towards companies with managerial wellness evaluation.
Attitudes also differed marginally by the self-reported health of managers, with those managers reporting excellent health having less favourable attitudes towards companies with manager health evaluations than managers with reported poor health.
Broadly, this study found that managers support the concept of being evaluated and incentivized based on their employee wellness actions, and look less favourably on companies who do not engage their managers in wellness programs and objectives. Under such incentivized structures, managers also reported high intentions to actively engage in promoting and implementing employee wellness initiatives.
Furthermore, managers indicated that they would be willing to leave their current employer for one that more explicitly engaged them in wellness initiatives. So, despite the somewhat contentious concept of tying manager compensation to employee wellness, the results provide strong evidence for the value managers place on employee wellness and their role in its success.
There was little variation in these results across manager demographic profiles, although interestingly managers who reported poorer self-health had more favourable views of companies who engaged managers in wellness management, which is consistent with prior research which indicated those with poorer health are more open to assistance from their employer in health matters (e.g. Robbins & Wansink, 2015).
Organizational and Reward Implications
This study puts forward one way in which managers can be motivated to promote employee health and wellness, and provides an alternative to purely individual employee focused wellness initiatives. The results provide strong support from managers that they would react favourably to such incentivization of their role in relation to wellness initiatives.
While the results are encouraging, companies should exercise caution if implementing policies that incentivize managers to promote wellness. Some companies and industries may be more receptive to these initiatives than others; companies in the healthcare sector for example may be more receptive than those in construction, and so critical to the success of such a strategy would be for those designing and implementing them to understand the culture of the company and to nuance the strategy accordingly. Similarly, the policy design would need to be given careful consideration in order to avoid pitfalls such as managers giving unqualified health advice or violating employee privacy.
Employee health and wellness is becoming central to successful companies, not least because of the potential costs associated with having an unhealthy workforce. This study provides a novel perspective on how companies might promote wellness by focusing on incentivising managers. As noted, caution is advised to companies implementing the type of strategy outlined in this study, and further research in this area would be welcomed to add support to the findings of this study.
Source Article: Robbins, R., & Wansink, B. (2016). The 10% solution: Tying managerial salary increases to workplace wellness actions (and not results). Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 21(4), 494-503.
Published by: American Psychological Association
For further details and access to the full journal article Click Here (subscription or payment may be required).
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