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Wellness Program Benchmarks Highlighted in SHRM Survey

Organizations would increase wellness investments if they could better quantify the impact

Wellness initiatives will continue to be a critical part of organizations’ strategies for controlling health care costs, according to a January 2015 survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Strategic Benefits — Wellness Initiatives.

Organizations are continuing to adopt a variety of wellness offerings for employees in an effort to promote a healthier workplace, revealed the report, based on a survey fielded in April-May 2014 to randomly selected SHRM members. Among the findings:

Availability. About three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) indicated their organization offered some type of a wellness program, resource or service to employees.

Participation. Among respondents from organizations that offered wellness initiatives, about one-half (53 percent) reported that employee participation increased last year compared with the year before; the same was true in 2013 and 2012, indicating a pattern of increased use of wellness initiatives over time.

“With most HR professionals reporting a year-over-year increase in employee participation rates in wellness initiatives, more employees are growing familiar with these types of program,” according to the report. “Employee wellness programs may therefore be increasingly considered an expected part of the employee benefits package and a factor in employer recruiting and retention efforts.”

Extended to dependents: One-half (50 percent) of organizations that had wellness initiatives in place extended them to employee dependents; approximately the same percentage of respondents reported the same in 2013 and 2012 (both 45 percent). Of organizations that offered wellness initiatives to dependents, almost all offered them to spouses (98 percent), while two-thirds (67 percent) offered wellness initiatives to dependent children.

“With childhood obesity rates climbing, the importance of wellness initiatives extended to dependents may grow,” the report said. “However, many organizations are moving away from offering health insurance to spouses who can access coverage through their own employers; this could affect the use of wellness programs by dependents as well.”

Incentives or rewards: Two-thirds (67 percent) of organizations that had wellness initiatives offered incentives or rewards, representing an upward trend from 2013 (56 percent) and 2012 (57 percent). Of respondents that offered wellness incentives or rewards, 85 percent indicated their organization’s incentives were “somewhat” or “very effective” in increasing employee participation.

Results. Also among reponsdents with programs in place, more than two-thirds (72 percent) indicated their wellness initiatives were “somewhat effective” or “very effective” in reducing the costs of health care in 2014. In addition, about three-quarters (78 percent) rated their initiatives as being “somewhat” or “very effective” in improving the physical health of their employees.​

“The reported effectiveness of offering wellness incentives or rewards to increase employee participation makes it likely that they will continue to be a central part of many organizations’ wellness programs,” noted the report. Similarly, “The reported effectiveness of wellness initiatives in reducing the costs of health care makes it likely that they will continue to be an important part of organizations’ health care cost containment strategies.”

Other studies have shown that wellness programs have an impact on health care costs, though the return can take three to five years to see, and there is ongoing debate over what approaches lead to the greatest return on investment.

Wanted: Better Metrics

The vast majority (90 percent) of respondents from organizations with wellness initiatives reported that their organization would increase its investment in its wellness efforts if it could better quantify their impact, “potentially implying that senior executives may be expecting more metrics from their HR teams that show the financial return from offering wellness programs, resources or services,” said Jennifer Schramm, manager of workforce trends and forecasting at SHRM.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.​


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