In order to drive profitability and performance, 87 percent of employers relied on wellness programs in 2012, up from 75 percent in 2010, according to the latest report from Buck Consultants.

The report, titled “Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies,” finds employers of all locations say improving worker productivity and reducing presenteeism are their top wellness program objectives.

“With productivity having a direct tie to bottom-line revenue, organizations now consider health promotion as a core business value that positively impacts their ability to compete,” says Dave Ratcliffe, principal of Buck Consultants. “With signs of job market improvement emerging in the U.S., employers will be challenged to maintain productivity gains earned during the recession as employees have increased job mobility.”

Only 36 percent of respondents report measuring specific outcomes of their wellness programs. Reasons respondents fail to do so are lack of resources at 68 percent and not knowing how to measure at 34 percent. Respondents from larger organizations are more likely to measure outcomes. Still, only 47 percent of respondents from organizations with at least 20,000 employees measure specific outcomes. Among respondents who measure wellness program outcomes, 30 percent say they placed greater emphasis on wellness programs during the tough economy.

“Employers who measure program outcomes do so with a greater focus on driving business results,” Ratcliffe says. “A healthier work force is a more productive work force, which produces greater revenue that is sustainable over the long term. So these employers understand the value of continuing their wellness initiatives even during hard economic times.”

Another 23 percent of respondents say wellness programs have helped cut costs of offering health care coverage. Within that sector of respondents, 62 percent say their health care cost trend rate reductions were two percentage points or more while 13 percent say they were 6 percentage points or more.  

When it comes to globalization, 49 percent of respondents promote worldwide health promotion strategies, an increase from 34 percent in 2008. Program focus can vary by geographic region, but most respondents say physical activity, stress and workplace safety are the three primary issues influencing wellness program design.

The survey also reveals that incentives have a direct correlation to program participation; however, initiatives that require lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet changes, are less impacted by incentives than more immediate programs, such as health assessments and biometric screenings.