What To Say If Your Boss Offers To Pay You To Lose Weight

Some suggestions!

  • “Bugger off.” Note: may only work if you’re English.

If you’re American, try:

  • How much?
  • “$550? That sounds pretty great. All at once?”
  • “Oh.”
  • “But if it’s bundled into my paycheck in increments of $20 or so at a time over the course of a year, how will I even notice it, let alone remember to have it affect my behavior?”
  • “Couldn’t you just pay me more? Rich people live longer, after all.”
  • “OK, fine, if you have to dangle cash as a kind of reward, maybe make it, like, a group contest kind of thing. As horrifying as that sounds, apparently that’s more effective, according to some wonks in the NYT.”

In a study published in 2013 in The Annals of Internal Medicine, we found that you can encourage weight loss if you put employees in groups in which only those who succeed in achieving a monthly weight-loss goal get rewarded. This works, probably because people hate the idea of seeing others in the group collect a prize that might have gone to them if only they had tried a little harder.

  • “Ugh, never mind. I’d rather not turn the office into an unending episode of ‘The Biggest Loser’ in which people who were once functional coworkers become lava lamps of seething resentment.”
  • “Can’t you bribe me with a step counter or something at least so we can focus on measurable, concrete goals like walking more instead of the simplistic and disputed notion that thinner = healthier? BTW, the wonks say if you threaten to take money away from me, I’ll work more consistently than if you tempt me with small sums.”

We ran the [step counter] study for three months, and even with regular feedback, employees in the control group achieved the step goal only 30 percent of the time. Employees who earned $1.40 for every day they met their goal achieved the step goal 35 percent of the time — a figure statistically no different than that of the control group. By contrast, those who stood to lose $1.40 for every day they didn’t meet their goal achieved that goal 45 percent of the time.

  • “Maybe ‘bugger off’ was the right impulse after all.”

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