What the data says about wellness initiatives
For employees to get the greatest benefit from well-being programs, employers should address such seemingly disparate things as stress, flu shots, workplace fatigue, job security and overtime management, alongside program staples like fitness and nutrition, according to a report from the Campbell Institute, an organization affiliated with the National Safety Council.
As the definition of wellness as an employee benefit takes on broader meaning, traditional programs are often evolving into well-being programs that reflect a holistic approach to employees' overall happiness and prosperity. As such, the concept of wellness is no longer just about healthy eating, physical fitness, weight control and smoking cessation. It has expanded to include more personalized offerings, such as mental health services, financial education, stress management, diabetes control and back-pain management.
Employers can make their well-being programs more personalized by adding benefits that help employees control major stressors in their lives and at work. HR departments looking to transform their wellness programs into well-being formats can start by gathering data on what workers need and want.
Well-being continues to emerge as the key word for employers looking to improve employee health and reduce health costs. Providing holistic health experiences that account for behavioral, mental and physical health have been proven to reduce health costs considerably in the long run, even if they take higher investment in the short-term.
Financial wellness is also part of well-being, particularly retirement savings and money management skills. Employers know that financial problems can cause undue stress and anxiety for workers. Therefore, they’ve added help with financial matters to their wellness services.
As employees become increasingly interested in wellness, employers are working to ensure that workplace benefits and amenities meet that demand. Wellness is now part of office design planning, and some have gone so far as to include vegetable gardens and walking trails, design experts have told HR Dive. Employers must have a plan in place to assess the ROI of these types of offerings, but experts say such amenities can result in improved attendance, productivity and retention.
It is also important that employers watch for a disconnect between their own perception of wellness offerings and how employees see those programs. In a Willis Towers Watson (WTW) survey upwards of 61% of employees said their employers' well-being initiatives don't meet their needs. The "2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey" also found that 81% of employers believe they do, while only 66% of employees agree.
To increase support for employee well-being, employers told WTW that during the next three years, they plan to focus on four components of well-being: physical, social, emotional and financial. Following physical well-being, WTW said emotional well-being is evolving as the number-one priority.
The study also shows that 84% of employers plan to improve employees’ physical well-being over the next three years, up from the current level of 27%; 66% plan to increase their support for financial well-being, compared to the current level of 16%; and 49% hope to improve social well-being, up from the current level of 12%.
The results point to a recurrent disconnect between what employers think they're offering in benefits and what employees say they need. But instead of employers and workers talking to each other through surveys, employers need to solicit feedback — and workers need to be empowered to tell employers what they need.
Another WTW statistic suggests an unsettled debate about how involved employers should be in encouraging workers to make healthier lifestyle changes. Most employers (87%) say they should be involved, but only slightly more than half of workers (54%) agree. There seems to be little doubt, however, about whether wellness programs require behavioral change.
Even with a broader definition of “wellness” in the workplace, there is good news for employers that get it right. Most employees — a full 68% — said they think "work perks" are just as important as health coverage, life insurance and other traditional benefits, according to a survey of 600 small and midsize businesses conducted by Zenefits. Small businesses without big-company resources can build an advantage and compete for talent in the tight labor market by offering popular fringe benefits that don't cost much to provide.
Respondents identified wellness programs as the most important perk, followed by education programs, financial wellness programs, free meals or snacks and commuter benefits.
The data indicates wellness programs continue to be a priority for employers and a welcome perk for employees. But it is still important for employers to offer initiatives that employees find beneficial, not just the offerings they think will resonate. With better mapped wellness programs, both employers and employees are better positioned to benefit from these offerings.
Article top image credit: Flickr; Tulane Public Relations