Wellness Participation Soars with Top Management Commitment

By Stephen Miller March 11, 2011

There is a clear correlation between senior management support and higher levels of employee participation in health and wellness programs ranging from blood pressure screenings to ongoing diabetes management, new research shows.

HR consultancy Mercer and the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) collaborated on the HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard—an analysis of data on employee health management (EHM) program participation rates and outcomes from nearly 450 U.S. employers.

The scorecard survey asked a number of questions to determine the level of leadership and cultural support for employee health and wellness programs. For example:

• Leadership participation. Does senior leadership make a point of participating in programs themselves?

• Mission statement. Does the corporate mission statement mention supporting workforce health as a goal?

Room for Improvement in Employee Health Management Leadership

Senior leadership active in employee health management programs

45% of respondents

Mission statement supports culture of health


Believe senior leadership and culture is “very supportive” of employee health management


Organized network of wellness champions in place


Source: HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard

Among the organizations that scored highest in this area, average employee EHM participation rates are significantly higher. Their employees are more likely to complete a health risk assessment (59 percent of employees, on average) than employees in organizations reporting little or no leadership and cultural support (41 percent) and are more likely to take advantage of biometric screenings offered through the program (53 percent vs. 38 percent).

"While many employers now provide employees with a cash incentive to complete a health risk assessment, the same incentive will be more effective in an organization where management is involved and a sound EHM strategy is in place,” said Steven Noeldner, a senior consultant in Mercer’s total health management practice and co-author of the study.

Strong leadership and cultural support not only led to higher participation rates but also were associated with a positive impact on lowering employees' health risks—and the organization's health care spending:

Health risks reduced. About two-thirds (66 percent) of organizations with strong leadership and cultural support reported improvements in health risks vs. only 26 percent of those with little or no support.

Cost growth slowed. Organizations with strong leadership and cultural support were 10 times as likely as those with little or no support to report that the EHM program had substantial positive impact on their medical plan cost trend—in other words, as employee health improved, the company saved more in medical claims than it spent on the EHM program.

Use of Incentives in Employee Health Management Program

Health Risk Assessment

Disease Management Program

Behavior Modification Program

Offer any incentive




Cash/gift card




Lower premiums




Contribution to flexible spending account (FSA), health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement account (HRA)




Average value of incentive




Source: HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard


The value of Employee Health Management Program Incentives Matter

Average participation rate when value of incentive is:

Health Risk Assessment

Behavior Modification Program

…in the top third



…in the bottom third



Source: HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard

The HERO Scorecard is free to organizations and may be accessed through the scorecard link at www.the-hero.org. After an organization’s information and data have been submitted to the online HERO Scorecard, the organization will be provided with a free report that compares the score of its program with the aggregate score of all the responses.

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


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