Employees want wellness programs that are easy to use, personalized and motivating and meaningful to them, according to a U.S.-based study by Aon Hewitt, The Futures Company and the National Business Group on Health.

“We hear over and over that the key to ensuring real health improvement is employee engagement, so knowing what employees want and what will motivate them is essential to success,” says Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. “Consumers are telling us that the one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness isn’t working for them. In order to help with their challenges and reduce costs, they want health programs that speak to their individual and families’ healthcare needs.”

Make it easy
Faced with rising costs, more employers are introducing plans that require workers to take responsibility for managing their health. A recent Aon Hewitt report shows that 51% of U.S. employers now offer a consumer driven health plan (CDHP), up from just 9% in 2005.

The good news for employers is that consumers are willing to try CDHPs if the immediate cost savings are apparent. Among those with a choice, 63% said they select a CDHP because of the lower premium costs, and 39% said they choose this option because their employer contributes to an associated account, such as a health savings account (HSA) or health reimbursement account (HRA).

However, while CDHPs may encourage workers to take a more active role in their health, the survey findings indicate they are having a mixed effect on behaviors. While 42% of respondents reported getting more preventive care and 40% said they are looking for lower cost health services, a sizeable number of workers are sacrificing (35%) or postponing (28%) care to avoid out-of-pocket costs.

“Employers need to make sure workers aren’t sacrificing health and the future costs of poor health for lower costs today,” says Cathy Tripp, managing principal of health benefits at Aon Hewitt and project leader for this study. “Giving employees the tools and advice to decide what is the most appropriate plan for them is critical.”

Make it personal
Fifty percent of respondents said they want a personalized plan that recommends specific actions they can take to improve their health, and 35% said they want personalized health tips and reminders.

“If companies truly want to move the needle in terms of overall health and cost, they have to stop looking at employees as one group, and start looking at the individual,” says Joann Hall Swenson, principal and health engagement best practice leader at Aon Hewitt. “Employers can customize health information and related programs to address the specific health conditions and risks of their workers as well as offer specific tips and actionable steps they can take to improve their condition.”

Make it move me
While employees may know what it takes to stay healthy, many aren’t making the correct lifestyle choices. Of those surveyed, 42% cited lack of time, 40% cited cost and 35% cited unwillingness to sacrifice as the leading obstacles to getting and staying healthy.

“It’s clear that when it comes to improving their health, knowing what to do and acting on it are two vastly different things for consumers,” says Swenson. “They have made it clear that they don’t need employers to focus a lot on explaining to them why they should change their health behaviors. Instead, they’d rather that their companies provide tools, programs, and perhaps most importantly, time, to help them make positive health choices despite the barriers in their lives.”

Make it meaningful
To improve health and productivity, employers are increasingly offering programs such as biometric screenings, health risk assessments, onsite clinics/pharmacies and EAPs. However, many employees don’t seem to be aware of these programs. Of those surveyed, 36% do not participate in any health program or service offered by their employer. Among the programs that workers do participate in, blood tests or biometric screenings are the most popular (61% participation), followed by health risk assessments (57% participation).

For those workers who do take part in these programs, satisfaction is extremely high. Almost all (97%) of respondents who took part in blood work/biometric screening were satisfied, 97% were happy with their on-site clinic or pharmacy, and 92% were satisfied with the health risk assessment.

Despite the availability of health improvement programs, many respondents said they don’t feel their employers are fully supportive in helping them get and stay healthy. A majority of workers (60%) think their company is only moderately-to-not supportive when it comes to their efforts to be healthy.

“Employers may be missing the mark when it comes to health improvement programs being offered to workers,” says Tripp. “Workers need to see that their efforts to become healthy are supported by the company. Developing a culture where leaders care and support healthful living communicates to workers that this matters to the company.”

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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