Sarah Acton: Should employers reward employees for healthy habits?

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recognises the business benefits that a healthy, engaged workforce brings, which is why we invest a vast amount of energy into improving our employees’ wellbeing. Who would not want to see happier employees, lower sickness absence levels, increased productivity and reduced agency staff costs?

However, rewarding healthy habits might drive unwanted behaviour, perhaps people will conceal their smoking status in a bid to unlock an extra few days of holiday, and as a result, not access the support they need. The benefits of looking after their health and wellbeing should be reward enough, and as long as work performance is not affected, we should not penalise people for their circumstances.

We endeavour to embed our own guidance on healthy workplaces into our working environment, coordinating a wide range of activities to help our staff look after their physical and mental wellbeing.

Throughout the year, we do as much as we can to facilitate people in developing their physical and mental health, including access to counselling and smoking cessation advice. We encourage ‘active travel’ and provide showers in our offices for our runners, cyclists and pre-work gym-bunnies.

Many of our staff have flexible working patterns, which enables them to participate in sporting activities or volunteering roles, which they may be unable to commit to without that flexibility.

However, we’re mindful that the relationship between staff and employers remains at an adult-to-adult level; we don’t want to start treating staff like children.

We encourage staff to develop healthy habits, but we’re not their parents, and we’re not going to reward or punish people on the basis of their healthy habits.

Sarah Acton is senior HR business partner, OD & specialist services at National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)