"It's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." B. Russell.
Are we promoting employee health and safety the wrong way? If most people value their health, why do we need heavy incentives to get them involved in health or safety programs? The answer is: we don't. If you're not engaging your population then your not promoting the right messages.
A recent Bucks global survey on workplace health asked companies around the world to rank ten factors (e.g employee morale, safety, promoting corporate image, healthcare costs) that motivated their business to address employee health. The clear number one response in the U.S. was "to reduce healthcare costs". Canada was the only other country or region to rank healthcare costs higher than 8 out of 10, ranking it fourth behind factors such as improving worker morale and improving productivity.
I know some countries don't have employer based healthcare, but do you see that the perspective here is the opposite to many other places around the world? The vast majority of U.S. companies are constantly attacking wellness from a negative perspective, essentially telling employees "you need to get healthier cause you're costing us too much money". Does that motivate you or make you feel valued?
Comparatively many other countries promote employee health from a positive perspective, essentially telling their employees "we want you to maintain better health cause it feels good and helps you perform better".
Now consider these facts:
1) Positive reinforcement and internal motivation to gain benefits are far stronger at motivating behavior change than negative reinforcement or extrinsic motivation to avoid negative consequences.
2) Consistent research shows employees actually save (or gain) more money through improved productivity and reduced absences compared to direct healthcare savings through successful wellness programs.
3) When people feel they are being told or forced to behave in a certain way (which many benefits related incentive structures do), there's a psychological reaction which makes them want to behave in the opposite manner.
Now think about the perspective with which you are tackling employee health or safety. Is it positive or negative? Are you reliant on incentives? Do you have a bit of "tunnel vision" focus on physical health compliance, reducing healthcare costs, or safety injury rate compliance?
Could you enhance your health and safety initiatives by changing your perspective? It's an interesting thought.