Employer appetite for investing in wellness appears to be waning, delegates heard at the Toronto launch of the 2017 Sanofi Canada health-care survey.

Representatives from the benefits industry, who also served on the survey’s advisory board, were surprised and concerned by these findings as they shared insights from the research at the event on Tuesday morning.

According to the survey, only 31 per cent of employers said they’re planning to invest in wellness, down from 51 per cent in 2012 and 68 per cent in 2011. With more employees reporting increased stress and anxiety in the workplace, a culture of wellness shouldn’t be overlooked, said Jonathan Avery, director of product, group benefits at Manulife.

Read: Fewer workplace cultures encouraging health and wellness: Sanofi survey

Employers may just be “pausing” and not necessarily ending their commitments to wellness, said Jennifer Elia, assistant vice-president of client experience and integrated health solutions at Sun Life Financial. She suggested that with the prevalence of chronic diseases and influx of targeted health technology, employers may just be looking at how they can make more strategic wellness investments.

“Plan sponsors are . . . saying: ‘We don’t think it’s a broad-strokes approach to organizational health and wellness that’s going to work. We need to actually get more focused and targeted.’ And oftentimes, that begins with assessment and data and analytics at the plan sponsor level first so we can identify [the primary drivers of costs for organizations],” she said.

The driver — whether it’s diabetes, mental health or a poor workplace culture — will determine the appropriate solution, noted Elia. She said employers may not necessarily need to invest more in wellness programs but look instead at changing behaviours at a leadership level.

Read: Fewer employers making changes to benefits plan design: Sanofi survey

Employers may be taking a cautious approach to investing further because some employees aren’t aware (17 per cent) or don’t use (30 per cent) their wellness benefits, according to the survey. Or they may be wondering if they’re reaching the right employees with their wellness programs, noted Avery. “. . . I think this sits in the back of the mind of employers to say: ‘Who’s going to be using this? Is it the healthy people who are getting the most benefits out of plans?’”

As a result, employers and providers need to continue to focus on effectively communicating benefits to employees, he added.

Employers should also manage their expectations on the investment return they seek from wellness programs, said Ezaque Lopes, regional vice-president of business development for Ontario at SSQ Financial Group. “We have this impression that it’s got to provide immediate results. . . . A wellness program can take years to take hold on culture, and so managing expectations . . . that’s something we’ll have to work with leaders of organization to help them understand that an investment today is certainly going to pay dividends in the future.”

Read: Rising employee interest in personalized medicine, targeted health education

The survey’s advisory board members also noted the increasing interest for personalized additions to benefits plans. Among employees, 67 per cent are interested in pharmacogenetic testing and 76 per cent of those taking three or more medications are keen to try the technology, said Mary Ann Baynes, account executive at Desjardins Insurance.

“These results generated quite a lot of excitement and discussion among the advisory board because the ability to target and prescribe these genetics would likely lead to better health outcomes and maximize plan sponsor investments in drug plans going forward.”

However, employers still face some hurdles in incorporating the technology into their benefits plan, and there are questions about what information plan providers can store, noted Baynes.

But employees may not be as protective about their privacy, said Avery, noting the survey found 76 per cent of employees are keen to receive health information based on their personal claims data, indicating that many are confident their data will be protected.

Read more stories from the survey:

Sanofi survey finds drop in employee satisfaction with health benefits

Which health benefits do employees really want?

Employers underestimating prevalence of chronic disease, Sanofi survey finds

What can employers do to create psychologically healthy workplaces?

Employees overwhelmed by flex plan decisions: Sanofi survey

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com
See all comments Recent Comments

Heather McNab:

I hope that these results mean that we are waking up to reality that our current one-size-fits-all approach really doesn’t work. In my experience, the clear majority of participants already have a healthy active lifestyle and just reap the rewards. I think that our enthusiasm to get our plans up and running made us miss the fact that we are attempting to change human behavior in a significant way. Even the healthcare experts haven’t figured that out yet. From my viewpoint, our designs need to identify and reflect the key differences in “readiness to change” among our employee population. Then we need to build different wellness journeys for each of these distinct segments in order to engage employees. And, we need to use psychological models of behavior change to make it work and stick.

Friday, June 02 at 10:59 am | Reply

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