Workplace Issues

Existing Wellness Programs Don’t Impress Workers

Just one-third of employees say the programs encourage healthier lifestyles: survey.
David McCannFebruary 22, 2018
Existing Wellness Programs Don’t Impress Workers

The many efforts employers have made in recent years toward improving the health of their work force don’t seem to have impressed the employees very much.

There is a significant disconnect at work here. For example, while 56% of surveyed employers said they believed that their well-being programs have encouraged employees to live a healthier lifestyle, only 32% of employees agreed.

Results of the research, performed by Willis Towers Watson in the third quarter of 2017, were released on Thursday. The firm polled 4,983 U.S. workers and 698 U.S. employers in separate surveys.

If you believe employers’ claims, they’re more concerned with their workers’ health than the workers are. While 87% of participating employers claimed that increasing employee engagement in health and well-being is a top priority, a substantially lower proportion (65%) of employee respondents rated managing their own health as a top priority.

Indeed, a majority (54%) of workers think their employer should financially reward them for living healthy lifestyles. And employees increasingly say they would participate in health and wellness programs only if offered incentives; 46% of them said so in 2017, compared with 35% in 2011.

If such programs are as effective as intended, getting workers to participate should pay off. According to Willis Towers Watson, employees in poor health are twice as likely to be disengaged at work and take off almost three times as many days as those who are in very good health.

“Most employees are looking at financial incentives as an entitlement, which means it can be difficult for employers to take the incentives away,” says Steve Nyce, a senior economist at Willis Towers Watson. “Yet, our research and experience show these rewards are not effective except when used in very specific ways, such as discrete tasks that offer an immediate payout.”

Nyce suggests that to create longer-tem behavior changes, employers should rethink how their programs are designed and incented. “Employees do not what to be told what to do,” he says. “Rather, they want to be supported with programs that lead to improved well-being. It’s an essential balance that’s not easy to achieve.”

Unsurprisingly, technology is identified as crucial to making wellness and well-being programs effective. The employee survey found that three in five workers use technology to manage their health. Just over 4 in 10 (41%) use wearables to monitor fitness activity or sleep while 30% use technology to track eating habits.

“Online tools are critical in helping employees of all ages make decisions about health-care choices in a complex market,” notes Cara McNulty, a senior health-care consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “The real change, however, will come from point solutions that connect with individuals. Technology can be key to integrate these programs that link multiple areas of an employee’s life and help to create a consumer-grade experience.”

Many employers are also offering on-site or near-site health and wellness services. Employees value these so highly that they respond positively to their employer’s broader well-being initiatives as a result.

For example, 58% of employees whose employers offered such on-site or near-site programs agreed that their employers’ overall initiatives met their needs, versus 25% of those whose employers do not offer such programs.

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