U.S. Businesses Spend More on Wellness Programs

But most don’t measure results

By Stephen Miller Jan 10, 2011

Despite spending more on employee wellness programs in 2010, only 37 percent of U.S. employers measured their program’s effectiveness, a Buck Consultants survey indicates.

Buck's survey of health promotion and workplace wellness strategies found that employers spent 35 percent more—about $220—on each employee who participated in a wellness program in 2010 compared to 2009. The global survey, with segmented U.S. data, analyzed responses from more than 1,200 organizations in 47 countries representing more than 13 million employees.

Wellness Program Objectives

Wellness programs continued to gain momentum among U.S.-based organizations as a key strategy to reduce the cost of providing health care, improve worker productivity and reduce absenteeism.

Globally, improving productivity was the most important objective for wellness programs, while improving workforce morale and engagement rose from the third to the second most important objective.

“Organizations that measure the impact of their wellness programs are more successful at improving their employees’ health and overall wellness,” said Barry Hall, a Buck principal who directed the survey. “However, many simply don’t know how to measure their results, or they don’t have the resources to do so.”

Among U.S. respondents, 40 percent had measured how wellness programs affected the cost of providing health care benefits to their employees. Of those, 45 percent reported success in slowing health care cost increases, with a typical reduction of 2 to 5 percentage points per year.

Health Risk Drivers

In addition, the U.S. results contrasted with other regions on the health risks that drive wellness programs. Globally, reducing workplace stress was the top driver of wellness programs, particularly in Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Africa. In the United States, lack of physical activity was the top driver, and stress ranks much lower (sixth) as a health risk targeted by these programs.

Trends Noted

Other key findings of Buck’s wellness study include:

Globally, 66 percent of respondents had a formal wellness strategy in 2010, a significant increase from 49 percent in 2007.

Wellness programs were most prevalent in North America, where 74 percent of responding employers offered them.

11 percent of U.S. respondents spent more than $500 per employee per year on wellness incentive rewards, with the largest rewards reported at $3,000 per employee.

The fastest-growing components of wellness programs were technology-driven tools. Employers around the world anticipated a six-fold increase over three years in their use of mobile technology—such as smart phones—to support employee wellness initiatives.

Click for information on Buck Consultants’ Global Wellness Survey, November 2010.

Click to view a free slide show with survey highlights.

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

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