2 Big Trends for 2017: Wellness, Education

Employers turn to technology to improve workers’ health and help them earn college degrees

By Greg Wright Feb 6, 2017
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Experts say employers this year will focus on employee health and emotional well-being and will use tuition-free college programs for employees to meet company and industry needs.

Many will use new technologies to advance these goals.

Healthy employees are more productive employees, and higher productivity leads to less turnover, said Rajiv Kumar, chief medical officer and president of Virgin Pulse, a Framingham, Mass., company that designs technology to help cultivate healthy lifestyle habits for employees. 

Employers also realize that keeping employees healthier is a way to address rising health care costs, Kumar said.

Software can help motivate employees to reach health goals. SHRM Online reported last year that data from personal monitoring devices could be used to lower health care costs. In January, USA Today reported that "more businesses and corporations are investing in wellness programs to not only improve the productivity of their employees but also their overall wellness."

Virgin Pulse's Engage software helps foster healthy behaviors and goals by sending employees daily tips to, for example, eat more servings of fruits and vegetables and take the stairs instead of the elevator. And companies can offer employees social recognition and awards such as gift cards, cash or time off for attaining these goals, Kumar said.

Companies are redesigning their offices, too, in order to increase wellness. Some are prominently displaying healthier foods in employee cafeterias and are stocking vending machines with healthier food choices. Others are building walking paths and making the stairs a more attractive option by displaying art in the stairwells and piping in background music.

"Employers are absolutely investing in the environment in the workplace to make the environment more conducive to well-being," Kumar said.

Employers Pay College Costs

In 2017, more employers will offer tuition-free college degree programs to improve the skills of employees and prepare them to be leaders within the organization, said Adrian Ridner, CEO and co-founder of Study.com, a Mountain View, Calif., company that offers online courses and study tools.

"Companies that have a large nondegreed workforce are recognizing the value of helping their employees get a college education," Ridner said. "It makes sense in terms of attracting and retaining employees but also helps them grow employees into future leaders."

According to the 2016 Employee Benefits survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management, 55 percent of organizations offered education assistance for undergraduate programs, 52 percent offered education assistance for post-graduate programs and 4 percent of companies offered employees help with student loan repayments.

Ridner said that partnerships between education providers and companies can make the cost of a college degree affordable, and in some cases free, for employees. Most companies that offer tuition reimbursement programs cover a small portion of college expenses.

For example, Thomas Edison State University partnered with Study.com to offer JetBlue airline employees the opportunity to earn a degree at a low cost.

Flexible degree programs can make it possible for employees to earn a college degree by taking online courses on a mobile device, Ridner said.

"Imagine progressing toward your degree by watching five-minute videos on your phone during a break at work, while on the train or waiting to pick up your kid from soccer practice," he said.

 

Greg Wright is a Baltimore-based freelance writer who has covered Congress, consumer electronics and international trade for major news organizations, including Gannett News Service/USA Today, Dow Jones and Knight-Ridder Financial News. He can be reached at GLW522@gmail.com.

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