Wellness programs stay strong despite recession

Despite the recession, companies continue to add wellness and health-management programs to reduce costs while encouraging employees to improve their physical health.

The latest Watson Wyatt/National Business Group on Health survey discovered that companies are still adopting employee wellness programs. The survey results also revealed that many companies improved employee participation rates by offering workers financial incentives.

Survey results show how companies increased the availability of various wellness programs:

  • 58% of companies offer lifestyle improvement programs, up from 43% in 2007
  • 56% offer health coaches, up from 44% in 2007
  • 52% offer weight-management programs, up from 42% in 2007
  • 80% offer health-risk appraisals, up from 72% in 2007

Companies that encouraged employees to participate in wellness programs by offering financial incentives reported significantly higher participation rates, according to survey results. Only 40% of companies reported that less than 5% of their workforce participated in weight-management programs.

"Employers continue to see gains from promoting wellness and health management initiatives," said Scott Keyes, senior group and health-care consultant at Watson Wyatt. "Effective financial incentives are one of the keys to encouraging worker participation in these programs — an effort that not only improves the health of workers but also helps reduce costs."

The survey also found that motivating employees with financial incentives significantly increased participation rates. Currently, 61% of employers offer incentives for health-risk appraisals and many employers are also offering incentives for smoking cessation and weight management programs.

Using financial incentives between $51 and $100 have been successful in encouraging employees to participate in smoking cessation programs, weight-management programs, and encourage employees to receive biometric screenings, according to the results.

"The relationship between the amount of the incentive and the level of program participation among employees is strong," said Sherri Potter, senior group and health-care consultant at Watson Wyatt. "A properly structured incentive program does much more than protect investments in health management; it creates a healthier and more productive workforce."

For more information on employee wellness programs and employee health, read these past posts:

Obesity linked to more expensive workers’ comp claims

HR survey reveals top green business practices

New research suggests exercise makes you smarter

Economic stress impacts employee health, productivity

How to beat stress in the workplace


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