Employers struggle to engage employees in wellness programs

The number of employers offering wellness programs continues to increase, but employers report that it is difficult to change the lifestyle behaviors of their employees, according to recent research from Towers Watson. The study also found that 88 percent of organizations that offer employees financial incentives for participation in these programs will reassess their incentives over the next three years.

Driven by ongoing concerns over worker stress (75 percent), obesity (70 percent), and sedentary lifestyles (61 percent), employer commitment to health and productivity remains strong. Towers Watson’s Staying@Work Survey found that 84 percent of U.S. employers identify health and productivity improvement as essential or moderately important to their health strategies. Additionally, 77 percent expect their organization’s commitment to wellness programs to increase or significantly increase over the next three years.

“U.S. employers have long recognized that the health and productivity of their workforce can influence business success and create competitive advantage,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. “Yet while the hot-button issues of stress and obesity remain ever-present, the numerous programs and incentives designed to combat them have failed to effectively engage employees. Employers may find the key to making better progress hinges on looking at these programs through an employee’s eyes.”

Towers Watson found that employees have not connected to their employers’ wellness programs. Only one-third said the well-being initiatives offered by their employers encouraged them to live healthier lifestyles. In addition, 71 percent of employees prefer to manage their own health, and 32 percent said the initiatives offered by their employers do not meet their needs. Nearly half (46 percent) don’t want their employers to have access to their personal health information, in part due to privacy concerns, and nearly 30 percent don’t trust their employers to be involved in their health and well-being.

In the last year, only 50 percent of employees participated in a well-being activity or health management-related program. Individual program participation was even lower, ranging from 48 percent for health risk and biometric assessments, to 22 percent for worksite diet/exercise events, to 8 percent for healthy-sleep or tobacco-cessation programs. On average, employers offer their employees $880 through a range of annual incentives, but employees collect only $365. Two-fifths of all employees don’t earn any incentives at all.

“Employers recognize that employees are leaving a lot of money on the table,” said Steven Nyce, senior economist at Towers Watson. “The good news is, employers are doubling down on their commitment to build a culture of health and improve the employee experience through technology and personalized communication. They can also be heartened by the progress some employers are making.”

SOURCE: Towers Watson press release, November 19, 2015.

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