Wellness Programs Not Catching on with Workers

While wellness programs remain popular among plan sponsors, they don’t seem to be gaining much traction with workers.

Driven by ongoing concerns over worker stress (75%), obesity (70%) and sedentary lifestyles (61%), employer commitment to health and productivity remains strong, and Towers Watson’s Staying@Work Survey found that a large majority (84%) of U.S. employers identify health and productivity improvement as essential or moderately important to their health strategies. Additionally, more than three-quarters (77%) of U.S. employers expect that commitment to increase or significantly increase over the next three years. Nearly half of employers (47%) currently offer financial well-being programs as part of their overall wellness offerings, with another 33% planning or considering offering by 2018.

That said, the wellness initiatives offered in the workplace don’t seem to be a fit with how workers want to deal with those issues. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of employees prefer to manage their own health; nearly one-third (32%) said the initiatives offered by their employers don’t meet their needs; and only a third of surveyed workers said the well-being initiatives offered by their employers encouraged them to live healthier lifestyles.

Moreover, nearly half (46%) don’t want their employers to have access to their personal health information, in part due to privacy concerns, and close to one-third (30%) don’t trust their employers to be involved in their health and well-being.

Those concerns are being expressed in participation rates; in the last year, only 50% of employees participated in a well-being activity or health management-related program. Individual program participation was even lower, according to Towers Watson, ranging from 48% for health risk and biometric assessments, to 22% for worksite diet/exercise events, to 8% for healthy-sleep or tobacco-cessation programs. On average, employers offer their employees $880 through a range of annual incentives, but employees collect only $365. Two-fifths of all employees don’t earn any incentives at all.

Companies with the most effective health and productivity programs had more employees participate in their programs and fewer employees using tobacco, at risk for high glucose and with hypertension. These highly effective companies also reported fewer days of unplanned absence and lower annual medical costs per employee per year.

Other findings:

  • A little more than half of employers today do not have an articulated health and productivity strategy, though in three years, nearly half of the organizations say they plan to include a health and productivity strategy as a key component of their organization’s employee value proposition to help attract and retain talent and motivate employees.
  • While 77% of employers measure program participation to a moderate or greater extent, only 53% use a variety of financial and nonfinancial benchmarks, and only 46% measure the ROI of their programs.
  • There is also growing interest in adding new tools and technologies to help employees manage their financial lives.

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