A majority of human resource professionals reported benefits from worksite wellness programs including increased productivity, lower healthcare costs, and reduced disability and workers’ comp claims, according to a national survey released in December.
“This is a significant finding,” said Tom Mason, president of the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota, a public-private consortium of employers, healthcare companies, and government agencies, which oversaw the States of Wellness research project, in a Dec. 6 press release. “Employers are realizing that wellness initiatives represent a solid business strategy with myriad benefits. It wasn’t long ago when a business might dismiss wellness as having an unproven ROI, or beyond its administrative capacity.”
More than 400 HR professionals were surveyed in summer 2012 by the Society for Human Resource Management. Regional polls were also conducted in Minnesota, Hawaii, Arizona, Missouri, and Florida. The Alliance also conducted 23 focus groups to supplement the surveys. The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and sponsored by the Minnesota Department on Health.
Employers ranked obesity, stress and mental health, and lack of exercise as the top three health challenges facing employees. Almost 70 percent responded that investments in wellness help lower healthcare costs. They almost universally agreed that worksite wellness initiatives help employees develop healthier lifestyles (96 percent), lower healthcare costs (84 percent), reduce absenteeism (78 percent), and increase productivity.
The survey defined a worksite wellness initiative as “a coordinated set of strategies that includes environmental supports, health benefits, and workplace policies designed to meet the health and safety needs of all employees.”
Of those surveyed, many already had some kind of wellness initiative in place, led by government agencies (83 percent) and publicly-owned for profit companies (75 percent), but more than half of them (56 percent) had started them in the last five years. About half of the companies provided a financial incentive (such as lower healthcare premiums or smaller deductibles) to wellness program participants versus non participants. Those with programs said their primary goals were to improve employees overall health (91 percent) and reduce healthcare costs (85 percent).
While 84 percent of employers said that return on investment (ROI) for wellness programs was important, only 42 percent of those with programs actually measure it. Of those with wellness programs in place for five years or more, 55 percent reported the programs had helped reduce healthcare costs.
Companies that did not have wellness programs were the most worried about cost (65 percent), low participation (59 percent), and lack of time to implement such as program (54 percent).
More than 90 percent said they would be willing to create or expand a wellness program if health plans offered discounts or rebates, and 80 percent if there were tax incentives for such programs.