Employers Increasingly Relying On Wellness Programs

Companies are relying more on wellness programs than in years past, according to recent research from Aflac. The 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report found that 44 percent of companies currently sponsor a wellness program, compared to just 30 percent in 2011. The majority of these are large companies with more the 100 employees. While there is a growing investment in wellness programs, many companies still struggle with effectively measuring the impact of these programs, Aflac noted.

Programs include a combination of components, specifically: wellness screenings, employee assistance programs, smoking cessation programs, and others. According to the Great Place to Work Institute, wellness programs are best practice among the best companies to work for: 73 percent have on-site fitness centers, 63 percent offer subsidized off-site fitness centers, and 55 percent offer incentives for workers to participate in wellness.

Return On Investment

The top reasons that businesses offer programs include lowering health care costs, improving worker satisfaction, and increasing productivity, and 61 percent of companies strongly or somewhat agree that wellness programs can directly impact corporate profitability, compared to just 50 percent in 2011. While there is evidence that wellness programs increase profitability, not all companies said that they are able to track success. While top employers see many advantages to offering a wellness program, others continue to struggle to determine the tangible benefits to their company’s bottom line. Just 32 percent of companies that offer wellness programs said they have been able to determine the return on investment (ROI) of their companies’ programs.

The survey found that a significant portion of companies reveal they are uncertain about the effectiveness of their wellness programs:

• 33 percent neither agree nor disagree that they have a healthier workforce as a result of their wellness programs;

• 33 percent neither agree nor disagree they have been able to lower premiums as result of their programs;

• 40 percent neither agree nor disagree they have been able to determine the ROI on their wellness programs;

• 26 percent neither agree nor disagree they have good participation in their programs; and

• 33 percent neither agree nor disagree they have had success with their wellness programs.

Health Reform Provides Opportunities

Beginning in 2014, provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) allow for some insurance rate differentiation (up to 30 percent) based on employee participation in wellness programs. Additionally, new health care rules permit companies to charge higher rates for individuals who use tobacco. While major medical health insurance plans must be guaranteed-issued, renewable and available to applicants regardless of their health status, preexisting conditions or other factors, the provisions introduce new parameters surrounding employee wellness.

Over the last two decades, onsite wellness programs, vendors and best practices have made big strides. According to the study, 33 percent of employers are currently offering positive incentives to employees who maintain healthy lifestyles or make healthy living choices. Still, fewer companies (18 percent) impose penalties for employees who choose to not make healthy lifestyle choices. With the growing popularity of wellness initiatives, and new provisions encouraging wellness options, there is a growing need to both effectively implement and measure program success.

Other Findings

Aflac also found the following:

Benefits engagement and knowledge: Employees enrolled in wellness programs are more likely to be knowledgeable about benefits and health care. They also are more likely to be engaged in their benefits programs and choices. Surveying benefits knowledge, understanding, and overall engagement can show a direct link to a company’s investment in benefits and efforts to market those benefits.

Employee satisfaction and morale: Employees who are enrolled in worksite wellness programs are more satisfied with their jobs and benefits, as well as to express more confidence in their employers. These workers are less likely to say they are extremely or very likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months (19 percent versus 30 percent), showing a reduced risk to leave their current employer.

Employee well-being: Full-time U.S. workers who have chronic health troubles or are overweight cost more than $153 billion in lost productivity each year. The Aflac survey reveals employees that participate in a wellness program are more than 10 percent more likely to say they are healthy because they exercise and eat right (41 percent compared to 30 percent). Likewise, financial security is also critical to overall workforce health. The Aflac study found only 16 percent of employees said that they are extremely or very prepared to pay for out-of-pocket expenses associated with serious illness or injury, and 25 percent have less than $500 to pay for an unexpected illness or accident.

For more information, visit http://www.aflac.com.

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