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Employers—and employees—are facing challenges such as dwindling resources, shifting priorities, an aging workforce and a fierce competition for talent, but a workplace wellness program may help to ease the burden. In addition to reducing costs, wellness programs can encourage a more productive and engaged employee population and help to attract and retain valued workers. However, recent survey results indicate that while employers appreciate the importance of wellness initiatives, they are not being as proactive as they could be in helping their employees to embrace better health.

Last September, Aon Hewitt conducted a Rapid Response survey on wellness programs. Three key findings emerged from the results.

1. Many employers don’t use available data
Employers are clear about what outcomes they’re looking for from their wellness initiatives:

  • 75%—healthy workplace culture;
  • 54%—cost reductions;
  • 54%—improved productivity/performance;
  • 51%—higher employee engagement;
  • 49%—better health status of workforce; and
  • 15%—assistance with recruitment and retention.

However, while 68% of employers indicated that they are aware of which risk/disease categories are driving their health costs, almost one-third had no idea. This lack of knowledge makes it difficult for these organizations to know which health management strategies will best address the challenges in their workplaces.

Even if organizations have designed wellness programs to address specific workplace health issues, only 12% of respondents actually measure the return on their investment. This means that the vast majority of organizations don’t know whether their efforts are worthwhile.

2. Programs have not evolved
The majority of programs are focused on awareness and education—and not on activities designed to reduce health risks and associated costs.

The most common elements of a wellness program are employee and family assistance programs (EFAPs) (currently offered by 88% of respondents), newsletters (offered by 64% of respondents) and lunch-and-learn sessions (offered by 60% of respondents). Fewer respondents provide initiatives they term “progressive,” such as on-site fitness, yoga and nutrition classes (37%), online health risk assessments (HRAs) (39%) and coaching to support behavioural changes (17%). Wellness offers that are seen as “innovative” by employers are just beginning to appear in Canadian workplaces: on-site biometric risk screening (11%) and concierge services for health-related questions (11%).

3. There is an appetite for change
The majority of employers surveyed plan to evolve their wellness programs to include progressive and innovative offerings. While they have been slow to move beyond traditional wellness programs, employers indicate that they are most likely to introduce measurement, particularly quantifying return on investment, online HRAs and behaviour change coaching in the next two years.

However, in order for wellness initiatives to be truly effective, workplace health programs need to be integrated. At the present time, while 87% of organizations agree that an integrated approach to managing employee health and productivity is critical, only 15% see their programs as being integrated.

Integrated health management means that all health and wellness programs at the organization work together—disability management, occupational claims management, health benefits, health coaching, EFAP, risk screening, etc. When these programs are truly integrated, processes are intertwined and feel seamless to the employee, data feed cross-functional evaluation and planning, and outcomes are aligned to achieve organizational objectives.

In order to maximize the impact of wellness initiatives, employers must take the next step in evolving their programs. The key is not simply to add new components but to take a holistic and integrated approach to assessing risk, identifying potential return on investment and developing programs to achieve objectives. If the survey respondents are right, the next generation of wellness programs will be in place within two years, allowing adopters to align their offerings with attraction and retention strategies to capture further competitive advantage.

For a copy of the survey results, contact Mike Kennedy at mike.kennedy@aonhewitt.com.

Mike Kennedy is national health strategies (wellness) leader in Aon Hewitt's Calgary office. mike.kennedy@aonhewitt.com

These are the views of the author and not necessarily that of Benefits Canada.

© Copyright 2014 Rogers Publishing Ltd. Originally published on benefitscanada.com
See all comments Recent Comments

Margaret:

These employers should be getting on board with sites like http://www.BestLifeRewarded.com that reward users for completing learning modules or utilizing health tracking tools such as blood pressure or cholesterol monitors. The prevention tools are already in place… the employer could encourage their use.

Wednesday, February 08 at 11:51 pm | Reply

Dmitri:

I agree Mike that there is an impending need to evolve the current offerings and infuse them with innovation. I just think that it is not up to the employer to come up with these changes and proposed evolutions. I think that industry leaders, such as AON, should take the lead and invest in development of alternative programs and offer them to employers as products.

Tuesday, March 06 at 3:27 pm | Reply

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