Staying the Course: Employers Show Commitment to Wellness

87 percent of global employers believe it’s their role to manage worker health

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Feb 12, 2013

Wellness programs are no longer a “soft” issue around the globe, as employers increasingly recognize the value of employees’ health and overall well-being to their organizations’ bottom line. According to a report from Buck Consultants, employers cite their commitment to promoting health and wellness as a business strategy and show a continued desire to expand health-promotion initiatives.

Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies” found that employers, regardless of location, identified improving worker productivity and reducing “presenteeism” as being among their top wellness-program objectives.

“With productivity having a direct tie to bottom-line revenue, organizations now consider health promotion as a core business value that positively impacts their ability to compete,” said Dave Ratcliffe, a principal at Buck Consultants. “With signs of job-market improvement emerging in the U.S., employers will be challenged to maintain productivity gains earned during the recession, as employees have increased job mobility.”

As health promotion takes its place as a top consideration among drivers of profitability and performance, an increasing number of companies recognize their role in managing employee health—87 percent in 2012 vs. 75 percent in 2010.

However, only 36 percent of respondents measure specific outcomes of their health-promotion programs, citing lack of resources (68 percent) and not knowing how to measure (34 percent) as the top reasons for not doing so. The likelihood of measurement increases with business size, although even among the largest employers (20,000-plus employees), only 47 percent report having measured specific outcomes.

Bottom-Line Impact

Emphasizing the effect on the bottom line, the survey revealed that 23 percent of U.S. employers indicated their wellness program helped reduce the cost of providing health care benefits to their workers. Of those:

  • 62 percent reported health-care-cost trend rate reductions of 2 percentage points or more.
  • 13 percent reported health-care-cost trend rate reductions of 6 percentage points or more.

Other key findings include the following:

  • Increase in globalization. Among participating multinational organizations, 49 percent have a global health-promotion strategy, up from 34 percent in 2008. While differing by specific geographic region, the majority of employers cite physical activity, stress and workplace safety as the top three issues driving wellness-program design.
  • Impact of Incentives. The survey shows that incentives have a direct correlation to program participation levels, but initiatives that require long-term lifestyle changes (such as physical exercise and nutrition) are not as greatly influenced by incentives as are more immediate programs (such as health-assessment and biometric screenings).
  • Increased value over time. While significant results from a wellness program can take years to realize, the survey illustrates how the impact of wellness programs differs by short-term and long-term payoff. For example, only 52 percent of organizations reported medium to high reductions in reported health risks in year one of a wellness program, but this statistic rose to 84 percent after five years.
  • Inclusion of family members.Seventy-one percent of respondents (up from 65 percent in 2010) included family members in some aspect of their health and wellness programs. The most common elements include health appraisals, online programs and telephonic programs. Spouses and domestic partners were included more frequently than children.

Buck’s fifth annual global wellness survey analyzed responses from 1,300-odd organizations in 45 countries, representing more than 17 million employees.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.​

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