1. Here is the problem and it is so common when wellness professionals talk about incentives (carrots and sticks). Yes as they say here the research over the past 3 decades is clear that they can work for short term changes and just as clear that they don’t work for sustained change. But that is not where the research ends, although unfortunately it is more often than not where the discussion by people who are using them stops. In fact, perhaps the most important research finding is that their use – both sticks and carrots engenders all kinds of significant iatrogenesis – negative consequences -including cheating, lying, taking shortcuts, decreased creativity and dampened intrinsic motivation. In a nutshell, these are the exact opposite of the qualities that organizations are looking for in an employee. Be happy to talk more about this if you would like to do a more in depth piece on this. What you have in this piece is only part of the story – and not the most important part at that, particularly if thriving organizations is the goal. Dr. Jon

  2. I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to view incentives like one would view a special offer from a retailer – they have value in encouraging an undecided person to go ahead and make a buying decision that they may not otherwise have made. So in a wellness program context, they are valuable in driving initial participation by encouraging members – especially those who are who are “on the fence” – to give it a try. However, as Mr. Kraft pointed out, they only work on a short-term basis – and as Dr. Robison pointed out in the comment below, if you try and use them as long-term motivators they may in fact result in negative consequences. The key when using incentives for behavior change – alluded to by Mr. Kraft – is to couple them with solutions that are built to develop intrinsic motivation right from the beginning. In other words, the incentive helps drive initial participation … and the solution takes over from there to build the participant’s intrinsic motivation and keep them engaged.

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