Making Wellness Work

Obviously, health care benefits are key to attracting and retaining skilled employees.  In recent years employers have turned their focus more towards promotion of workplace health and productivity.  Not only does it have a positive impact on company finances, but employees can live healthy and productive lives, both at work and at home.

Integrated Benefits Institute recently researched both incentives and disincentives employers use to promote wellness.  More than 500 employers were surveyed, with over 5 million employees combined.  Below are some of the findings:

Embrace incentive programs. The burden of medical insurance, health-related absence and lost productivity are significant problems for most employers.  This cost burden justifies employer activity in promoting healthy behaviors and discouraging unhealthy ones.  Nearly three-quarters of surveyed employers implement at least one incentive program.  Disincentives were used less frequently.

Make a substantial investment. About half of the respondents spend more than $200 per participant in incentives and disincentives.  Those currently offering $201-$300 plan to increase incentives by 42%; those in the $301-$400 range by 117%.  The more than 20% who spend more than $400 plan to increase their contributions by 17%.
Link goals to outcomes.  Of the three major results employers seek in offering incentives – participation, behavior change or improved outcomes – most employers emphasized participation in programs.  Improved outcomes were significantly less sought after.  This was surprising since employers can best achieve health and productivity goals by improved outcomes.

Choose the most effective incentives. Also surprisingly, even though employers believe some incentives/disincentives are more effective than others, they tended not to use the most effective.  However, the incentive of providing full benefits and full salaries for workers involved in transitional disability return-to-work programs, a most effective incentive, is frequently offered and produces high outcome success.

From Employee Benefit News, March 2009 issue, pp.32-38.