Wellness programs are the “next best hope” for promoting a healthy work force while containing health care expenses, says new research, but the majority of midsize and large companies don’t measure the return on investment of their wellness programs.

According to an online survey of 507 HR/benefits decision makers conducted by ADP, 79 percent of large and 44 percent of midsized companies offer wellness programs, but only a quarter of midsized companies and 22 percent of large companies measure the return on investment of their wellness programs.

Bob Nersesian, ADP spokesman, says there are easy steps for employers to take in finding out their return.

“The best ROI measure on wellness programs comes by looking at four measurement factors: employee morale and satisfaction, employee retention, absences and productivity,” he says. “Most organizations are already measuring these factors, but they may not be incorporating wellness as a control when doing so.”

The majority of those who measure the impact say wellness programs they offered met or exceeded expectations in regards to reducing overall health care costs.

“Wellness programs are employers’ next best hope for containing health care expenses,” says Tim Clifford, president of benefits services for national accounts at ADP. “These programs can also increase productivity without the negative impact on employee morale of layoffs or cutting plan options—yet few companies are measuring their return on investment from wellness initiatives.”

The survey also found that some employers make wellness program participation mandatory. Most, though, provide voluntary or incentive-based wellness programs. The most common reasons employers offer wellness programs is to improve employee health (81 percent midsized, 78 percent large), followed closely by controlling health care costs. Additionally, a third or more say they are interested in attracting and retaining employees, and maintaining or increasing benefits offerings.