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Employers still bullish on wellness programs
A check-up on employer health and wellness initiatives
The United States is struggling with chronic diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. Employers play a significant role in providing and financing health insurance and have a significant stake in maintaining employee productivity. These responsibilities have prompted many companies to provide wellness programs and activities to encourage healthier employee lifestyles. As employers work to implement new and innovative wellness programs, how can they bolster employee participation and engagement?
Findings from the 2015 Surveys of Employers and Health Care Consumers
The United States is struggling with an epidemic of chronic diseases from unhealthy lifestyles. Inactivity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and frequent alcohol consumption are among the behaviors contributing to increasing rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.1 Employers play a significant role in providing and financing health insurance, and they also have a major stake in maintaining employee productivity. These responsibilities have prompted many companies to provide wellness programs and activities to encourage healthier employee lifestyles.
Employers face numerous challenges when developing a wellness strategy: understanding sensitivities in engaging with employees around lifestyle behaviors, sifting through studies and examples to identify evidence-based interventions that can keep employees motivated over time, and navigating an evolving regulatory landscape. Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of US Employers shows that despite these challenges, employers are still bullish on wellness programs. Many respondents are likely to maintain or scale-up their current wellness and disease management programs, not only to encourage healthy habits among their employees, but also to bolster recruitment and retention rates.
Other survey findings reveal:
- Employers are more likely to frame incentives to engage employees in healthy lifestyles as rewards. Monetary incentives such as decreased premiums, co-pays, and deductibles are most popular and are offered by 46 percent of surveyed employers that offer incentives or penalties. Meanwhile, 32 percent of these surveyed employers apply increased premiums or surcharges for unhealthy lifestyles, such as tobacco use.
- Although almost all (96 percent) of surveyed employers that offer incentive programs agree or somewhat agree that wellness programs help to control medical costs, fewer than half are measuring their programs’ return on investment.
- Findings from Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers show that consumers, with or without chronic conditions, are interested in and see value in employer wellness and disease management programs. Most consumers are willing to participate in programs whether they are optional or required to receive full benefits, with only 6 to 12 percent of surveyed consumers saying they are not willing to participate in optional initiatives such as biometric screenings or healthy lifestyle programs.
As interest in wellness programs continues to grow, employers may find that seeking employee input and giving employees several options for participating may increase employee satisfaction, long-term engagement, and overall program success. Given consumer willingness to participate in wellness programs, employees may stay more engaged in the long term if they feel the program is not intrusive or mandated.
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1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chronic Disease Overview, August 26, 2015.
Absenteeism and presenteeism cost employers—even more so than direct medical and pharmacy costs. Many chronic conditions negatively impact productivity.
Consumer perspectives on employer wellness programs
How do consumers feel about employer wellness programs? Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers reveals that most consumers—whether they have a chronic condition or not—are willing or somewhat willing to participate in employer wellness and disease management programs that are optional or required to receive full benefits. Only 6 to 15 percent of consumers are unwilling to participate in wellness initiatives and that depends on the type of program and the health status of the individual.
Optional wellness programs are just as popular as programs that are required for individuals to receive full benefits and are not perceived as being intrusive. However, regardless of their health status or whether the program is optional or required to receive full benefits, few surveyed consumers say they are unwilling to participate:
- Healthy living programs: 15 percent of individuals with chronic conditions are unwilling to participate in a healthy living program that is required to receive full benefits, compared with 12 percent of individuals without a chronic condition.
- Biometric screenings: 13 percent of individuals with chronic conditions are unwilling to participate in a biometric screening program required as a condition of participation, compared with 12 percent of individuals without a chronic condition.
The majority of surveyed consumers see the value that wellness programs provide for both employer and employees: 91 percent think that wellness programs are put in place to cut employer costs, and the same percentage of consumers view the programs as a perk and think they are put in place to help improve employee health.
Most consumers appear to want access to wellness programs, given their willingness to participate and their views of the programs as a perk that helps them improve their health. However, consumers may be skeptical or have negative views about some program elements. Employers seeking high levels of employee engagement should consider demonstrating their organization’s investment and commitment to building a culture of health, as opposed to implementing a program that demands much of employees but offers little from the organization.