Employees Skipping Out on Wellness Checks

Kathryn Mayer By Kathryn Mayer July 26, 2023

​A significant number of employees are skipping out on important wellness and health checks, new research shows, a problem that only exacerbates the issue of recent declines seen in employee well-being.

Roughly half of adults have avoided at least one common health screening, including tests for certain diseases and other exams, according to a new report from Aflac. Those include blood tests, colonoscopies, mammograms, pap smears and skin cancer checks.

At the same time, 51 percent of respondents who have had cancer said their diagnosis came as a result of a routine checkup or screening.

The insurance provider's survey of 2,001 employed U.S. adults ages 18-65 in June 2023 found that 1 in 4 simply skip regular checkups because they are feeling healthy. Other reasons cited include conflicts with work hours (23 percent); not thinking about it (22 percent); dislike of going to the doctor (21 percent); insurance issues (21 percent); fear of hearing bad health news (18 percent); and the time it takes to go to the doctor (16 percent).

The findings coincide with a dip in employee well-being—a huge problem for employers when it comes to having productive and healthy employees.

A recent report from MetLife found that employee well-being has dropped significantly in the past few years, with employees saying they are feeling less physically, mentally and financially healthy than they were last year.

"It is pretty simple," Aflac CHRO Matthew Owenby said of the correlation between declines in employee well-being and people skipping health and wellness screenings. Alternatively, people who get regular screenings and checkups tend to be healthier and have better outcomes.

With cancer in particular, he said, "early detection can often help lead to a better outcome, and that benefits everyone, including employers. And when you consider that some cancers such as colorectal cancer are skewing younger than ever before, and the recent change in the recommended age for women to have mammograms to detect possible breast cancer earlier, more than ever, we need to take advantage of the technological advancements that can help save lives."

The Aflac report echoes other recent findings about employees skipping out on health and wellness screenings—even as many experts have sounded the alarm about the issue.

Gallup research from earlier this year found that the percentage of Americans who said they or a family member postponed medical treatment in 2022 due to the cost rose 12 percentage points since the year prior. That figure is now 38 percent, the highest it has been in the 22 years that Gallup has been following that trend.

And recent analysis out from the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit research organization, similarly found that more than half of employees (58 percent) delayed necessary medical care due to cost or insurance barriers.

IBI President Kelly McDevitt said the findings indicate a major problem and are a call to action for organizations. "Delaying care has significant health impacts for employees, which in turn affects their presenteeism and productivity. A healthy employee is a productive one," she recently told SHRM Online, noting that delays in care also have significant impacts on employers in the form of lower productivity and potential increased health care costs.

Owenby agreed, saying that the issue is top of mind for organizations.

"I am certain that most employers are extremely concerned about the health and well-being of their workers from both a productivity and an emotional standpoint," he said.

The findings are further proof that employers, and HR and benefits leaders in particular, should address the issue, experts say.

Owenby said the first step is to start the conversation about the problem of skipping health appointments with employees. "The key is communication, because between work, home life and families, people are busy and they compartmentalize their priorities," he said. "We need to make sure that each and every employee makes his or her personal health care a priority."

McDevitt previously told SHRM Online that employers should improve access to care where barriers exist, and that it's important to create a culture that encourages receiving care and addresses the lack of available appointments.



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