As the burgeoning wellness industry continues to grow, it is also experiencing a number of key changes brought on by a shift in expectations from employers and others seeking wellness services.
A new study by Shortlister, an HR technology sourcing firm, shows most employee benefits consultants say employers are shifting their focus from physical wellness to a more holistic “well-being” approach which takes into account psychological, emotional and financial health.
The study is based on a survey of 114 subject matter experts from 33 top employee benefits consultants.
A whopping 90 percent of respondents say their clients are requesting more emphasis on “well-being” over physical health, while 10 percent say the emphasis has remained the same. Notably, nobody reported a decrease in “well-being” focus.
The majority of vendors (81 percent) also report an uptick in interest relating to “niche” services targeting specific issues, such as diabetes management.
As some research has cast doubt on the return on investment of broad-based physical wellness programs aimed at encouraging exercise and better nutrition among employees, some experts have argued that employers would see a better return on investment by focusing on the employees with the greatest immediate health problems.
A RAND study last year that examined a decade’s worth of data from Fortune 500 wellness programs found only the disease management component of wellness initiatives produced a compelling return on investment, at least in financial terms.
Whatever form such initiatives take — or whether they are formalized as programs at all — consultants say employers continue to show a great interest in wellness as a business priority, with 76 percent of respondents reporting a greater interest as of late than in previous years.
However, clients are split on some other issues. Only 43 percent of respondents detect an increased interest among employers for implementing a wellness program via a third-party vendor, compared to 48 percent who say they level of interest has remained steady. Nine percent say the interest appears to have decreased.
Half report, however, that there is less interest among their clients in putting in place a program via their health insurance carrier, while only 18 percent say there has been an increased interest.
While there are great differences between the wellness programs that employers pursue, there are a number of program staples the majority of firms expect from vendors. The most common “must-haves” according to the survey are biometric screenings and health assessments. Second opinion services, health coaching and diabetes management are also considered essential for many employers.
Other elements of programs that are not considered “must-haves” but elicit the greatest amount of increased interest are financial wellness services, stress and resilience counseling, sleep improvement, on-site health clinics, telemedicine services and wearable fitness devices.