Beware of Whole Foods' Healthy Employee Discount

Is Program Not What It Seems?
Feb 9, 2010 8:50 AM ET

Elegant Roots blog

In Drive, Daniel H. Pink explores "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." The intro concepts break down the broad types of motivation -- Motivation 1.0 covers our striving to satisfy survival needs. Motivation 2.0 covers our responses to external rewards and punishments -- carrots and sticks.

Motivation 3.0 covers what intrinsically motivates us where there are no external rewards, no concrete personal "carrots." For example, people spend much time and effort on Wikipedia; or people stop to help a stranger; or someone who spends hours practicing violin with no interest in a professional career.

Ironically, when someone does something for its intrinsic motivation -- say, for interest or fun -- the application of an extrinsic reward can often ruin it, "transform[ing] an interesting task into a drudge. [Extrinisic rewards] can turn play into work. And by diminishing intrinsic motivation, they can send performance, creativity, and even upstanding behavior toppling like dominoes."

With Drive in mind, I read about Whole Foods' new Team Member Healthy Discount Incentive Program as reported by This program offers employee discounts beyond the normal 20% for non-smoking employees who opt-in and demonstrate qualifying cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight as measured by BMI.

Applying extrinsic rewards and punishments (like a discount) to what is otherwise intrinsically motivated (like healthy lifestyle pursuit) -- that's a motivation killer. Maybe that'll be no problem for those who already score at a 30% discount, but for those who have been struggling with weight, this program is a motivation killer.

What were they thinking?

But perhaps John Mackey and the other execs at Whole Foods did consider the studies of Motivation 3.0 in designing this program. Maybe this program is NOT intended to motivate weight loss, etc.; perhaps it's intended to accomplish something else entirely. Warning: Whole Foods employees beware.

Read more here.