When you hear the words “subsidy” and “penalty” which one are you more likely to respond to? Do you like the idea of getting some positive assistance, or does the idea of getting docked or penalized resonate with you? When discussing how to encourage participation in and adherence to wellness programming, subsidies and penalties are two sides of the same coin; you can either reward someone for doing the right thing (subsidy), or punish them for a lack of participation leading to poor health (penalty). It boils down to motivation, and what motivates each individual. In the case of workplace wellness, it also depends on what kind of a culture the employer wishes to foster.
If a company wants to promote health and wellness as positive, beneficial work-life elements, subsidizing healthy people makes sense. If everyone starts at the same baseline, and people are rewarded for exercising, eating well, maintaining / monitoring health conditions, and stress reduction activities, those people can feel good about their accomplishments and see tangible reward for healthy living; on the other hand, people who do nothing get nothing. Doing the reverse, punishing people for a lack of health, would seemingly create bitterness and resentment around the idea of health.
At the end of the day, companies need to align their benefits practices with overall company culture; we live in a world where fewer people fully separate from work at the end of each day as more people are working in flexible environments that inevitably create mix work and personal time together. Values-driven wellness goes beyond the office and helps employees to incorporate health into every aspect of life.