'Wellness' Expands to Embrace Financial Planning, Volunteering Opportunities

Employers are offering larger incentives to participate in health-promoting programs

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS April 14, 2017
Wellness Expands to Embrace Financial Planning, Volunteering Opportunities

A growing percentage of companies are expanding their employee well-being programs beyond health and wellness to include employee financial security and community volunteering opportunities, new research shows.

Eighty-four percent of surveyed employers now offer their workers financial security programs, such as access to debt management tools or student loan counseling, up from 76 percent last year, according to the 8th annual survey on corporate health and well-being from Fidelity Investments, a benefits provider, and the nonprofit National Business Group on Health, an employers' association.

The survey, fielded during November and December 2016, includes responses from 141 large and midsize organizations throughout the U.S. Respondents were asked about their benefit programs for 2017.

"The concept behind holistic well-being is to enable employees to meet their goals rather than tell them what they need to do," said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. "Financial well-being is an important well-being pillar, as it's hard to engage employees on addressing health needs if they are struggling with putting food on the table or managing debt."

Wellness Program Incentives

Ninety-five percent of surveyed employers are offering physical wellness programs this year, and 87 percent are providing emotional health benefits, such as mental health counseling through an employee assistance program.

Employee incentives continue to be a critical part of health-promoting programs. The survey found that:

  • 74 percent of respondents include employee incentives within their wellness initiatives.
  • The average employee incentive amount was $742 this year, up from $651 in 2016 and $521 in 2013.
  • Employers are increasing incentives for spouses and domestic partners to participate in wellness offerings, with the average annual spouse/domestic partner incentive at $694, up 47 percent over the 2016 average of $471.

"As these programs evolve, employers are embracing a broader definition of well-being to increase participation and engagement among their workforce," said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president at Fidelity Benefits Consulting. "Today's programs take more of a 'health meets wealth' approach and reflect a blend of financial, physical and social/emotional programs to provide maximum support for members."

Among the most popular financial security programs are:

  • Seminars and "lunch-and-learn" programs (offered by 82 percent of employers).
  • Access to tools to support key financial decisions such as those regarding mortgages, wills and income protection (74 percent).
  • Tools and resources to support emergency savings, debt management and budgeting (71 percent).
  • Student loan counseling or repayment assistance (25 percent).
  • The most popular physical well-being programs continue to be:
  • Smoking cessation (91 percent).
  • Physical activities/challenges (86 percent).
  • Weight management (79 percent).

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Designing and Managing Wellness Programs]

Ergonomic Desks and Healthier Food Options

Fifty-five percent of companies surveyed offer a "sit-or-stand" ergonomic desk or treadmill workstation option, up from 43 percent last year.

Employers are recognizing the impact of fitness wearables on employee health—30 percent will offer subsidies or discounts on these devices in 2017.

Companies are also focusing on healthy onsite food options for their workforce—48 percent have policies regarding healthy food options in their cafeteria, vending machines and catering services, and 28 percent of organizations offer discounts or price differentials on healthy food options in the cafeteria.

Giving and Volunteering Opportunities

The percentage of employers that provide opportunities for employees to volunteer for community projects increased from 67 percent to 79 percent this year, while the percentage of employers offering a matching program to support employees' charitable giving increased from 65 percent to 71 percent.

Employers are adding cause-based collection drives, with the percentage of companies offering these programs increasing to 88 percent from 77 percent last year.

"Over the years, employers across the country have bolstered benefits that contribute to employee well-being. … One of these benefits particularly touches the heart and soul of employees: volunteering," Henry G. ("Hank") Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, recently wrote.

"This benefit is important to many workers, particularly Millennials, who view participating in community service as part of being a whole person," he noted.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What is employer-sponsored volunteerism?]

Re-Evaluate Wellness and Incentive Programs

Well-being programs improve when they are rigorously evaluated, benefit specialists observe.

"Employers have increased incentives for healthy behaviors and program participation dramatically in recent years; however, employee participation in wellness programs continues to lag," noted Jeff Levin-Scherz, senior consultant and co-leader of Towers Watson's North American health management practice, and Steve Nyce, director of the firm's Research and Innovation Center.

"Forty percent of employees fail to receive any incentive because they elect not to participate, and only 42 percent receive the full incentive available to them," the consultants wrote recently. "Some employers have maintained incentives at the same level for so long that employees regard them as an entitlement."

The consultants advised:

  • Include in your well-being evaluation structural measures (did the program vendor have all elements in place and on time as promised?), process elements (what level of sustained participation was achieved?) and outcome elements (including member satisfaction and demonstrated behavior change) and design and implement measures prior to program launch.

  • Offer incentives for achievable goals. Incentives that are unachievable can be demotivating, and unachievable targets are unlikely to change behavior and are likely to cause dissatisfaction.

  • Remember the importance of nonfinancial incentives. People place a high value on public recognition. Plaques, special designations and the opportunity to lead teams can all motivate employees to improve healthy behavior.

  • Consider incentives to promote group activities, which can help build a sense of team and promote a culture of health. These activities can be fitness related, with reasonable alternatives for those with disabilities. The incentive also could be time away from work to perform charitable activities.

Related SHRM Articles:

Is 2017 the Year of Employee Financial Wellness Programs?, SHRM Online Benefits, January 2017

Financial Wellness Success Requires Proactive HR, SHRM Online Benefits, September 2016

EEOC Issues Final Rules on Employer Wellness Programs, SHRM Online Benefits, May 2016

Youth Mentoring Partnerships Are a Win-Win-Win, SHRM Online Benefits, March 2017

The Benefits of Philanthropy and Volunteerism, SHRM Online Benefits, February 2016

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