More employers are offering them and more employees are interested in them. Wellness programs are becoming ever more widespread, and employers are looking at more than dollar signs, considering factors other than return on investment as they evaluate the results.
According to UnitedHealthcare’s consumer sentiment survey, there’s a lot of positive action around workplace wellness programs. More employees (73 percent) say they’re interested in them, and those who have access to one credit them with improving their health (59 percent say so). In fact, 25 percent of employees now own an activity tracker — that’s up from just 13 percent only last year.
And employers are buying in, too; UnitedHealthcare cites a Forbes piece which points out their rising popularity and says more than 70 percent of American employers are offering them (up from 58 percent in 2008).
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that employees are ready to commit serious effort to physical fitness or dietary improvements. The survey finds 63 percent of employees are not willing to spend at least an hour a day on health-related activities such as exercise, researching healthy food or recipes or engaging in wellness coaching.
Of course, some are more willing than others; 36 percent say they’re willing to spend more than an hour a day on improving their physical condition.
One scary thought: The 63 percent who seem to be resolved to stay couch potatoes apparently don’t even know how to estimate fitness targets, or their numbers might be even larger. The survey finds 71 percent of employees underestimate the distance necessary to achieve 10,000 daily steps, an approximate distance of five miles. That’s the target some health experts recommend to prevent a sedentary lifestyle.
About 28 percent of respondents think 10,000 steps was a distance of two miles; 26 percent estimate three miles; and 17 percent say four miles. Only 21 percent correctly estimate it as a distance of five miles.
The good news? A report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans finds employers are looking beyond ROI as they evaluate the effectiveness of these plans.
In its Workplace Wellness 2017 Survey Report, IFEBP says 75 percent of employers are offering wellness initiatives “primarily to improve overall worker health and well-being. Only 1 in 4 employers say the main reason for offering wellness initiatives is to control/reduce health-related costs,” the report says, adding that continued increases in productivity and decreases in absenteeism strengthen the case for such programs.
“Employers are realizing that wellness is not just about cutting health care costs, because wellness is not only about physical health,” Julie Stich, CEBS, associate vice president of content at IFEBP, says in the report. She adds, “Embracing the broad definition of wellness has led to a tremendous impact on organizational health and worker productivity and happiness.”
More than half of the employers who offer such programs and measure the results, the report finds, say that they see a decrease in absenteeism. In addition, 63 percent are experiencing financial sustainability and growth in the organization, 66 percent reported increased productivity and 67 percent say employees are more satisfied.
While 77 percent of employers offer free or discounted flu shots, many are offering other “emerging” wellness benefits, such as chiropractic services coverage (62 percent); community charity drives/events (59 percent); on-site events/celebrations (58 percent); wellness competitions like walking/fitness challenges (51 percent); healthy food choices in cafeteria or vending machines (44 percent); standing/walking work stations (42 percent); and even those wearable fitness trackers workers are increasingly using (23 percent).
As to why workers aren’t participating more, or more enthusiastically, the IFEBP report cites the following reasons as “common barriers:” difficulty for workers to find enough time to participate (39 percent); dispersed population (27 percent); difficulty maintaining momentum (26 percent); prohibitive costs (25 percent); and lack of interest by workers (24 percent).