Just 41 per cent of plan sponsors said they offer a wellness program to their employees in 2018, down from 51 per cent in 2017 and a high of 64 per cent in 2013, according to the 2018 Sanofi Canada health-care survey.

The downward slip is concerning since employees are more likely to have a positive view of their health benefits plans if it includes a wellness program, the survey noted. The reasons plan sponsors don’t offer wellness programs include cost and affordability (27 per cent), organization size (17 per cent), the fact they don’t need it (15 per cent) and a lack of employee interest (13 per cent) or time (10 per cent).

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

On the other hand, wellness culture is on the rise, as the majority of plan sponsors (79 per cent) and members (71 per cent) agreed their organization fosters a culture of wellness. But formal wellness efforts do appear to be part of that picture, since both plan sponsors (89 per cent) and members (87 per cent) said they’re more likely to perceive a culture of wellness when a program is in place.

“It is encouraging to know the presence of a wellness culture is as powerful as wellness programs in enhancing plan members’ perception of their health benefits plan,” said Marc Bertossini, Desjardins Insurance’s director of marketing for group and business insurance, speaking at the survey’s launch event in Toronto on June 13.

Have your say: Is the decrease in plan sponsors offering wellness programs a concern? 

A culture of wellness also coincides with employees’ overall happiness with their work, since 89 per cent of those reporting the presence of such an environment expressed satisfaction with their current jobs. That compares to 59 per cent of those reporting no wellness culture.

“We are encouraging some plan sponsors to hold off on implementing more wellness tactics so they can take the time to determine objectives and assess their foundation in terms of culture and leadership,” said Jennifer Elia, assistant vice-president of integrated health solutions at Sun Life Financial Inc. and a member of the survey’s advisory board. “It can be worthwhile to hit the pause button on some activities, and shift to more of an internal focus.”

Read: Leveraging teachable moments among tips for boosting wellness programs

Also, where employers already have some form of wellness program in place, it’s more likely (64 per cent) that they’ll spend more in the future on health education and improvements to their existing efforts. Among employers that don’t have a program, only 39 per cent said they plan to spend money on such efforts. A quarter (23 per cent) of respondents said they’ve spent as much as they had planned and 22 per cent said they’ve never invested in this area and have no plans to start doing so.

Workplaces with more than 500 employees are more likely (79 per cent) to increase spending around employee wellness, while employers with fewer than 50 employees are less likely (27 per cent) to do so. As well, plan sponsors that receive analysis of the top diseases affecting their workforce are more likely (65 per cent) to allocate more to health education and wellness efforts than those that don’t (32 per cent).

When asked to select the top factors for success in wellness programs, three-quarters (74 per cent) of plan sponsors pointed to a healthy workplace culture, followed by a sufficient budget (50 per cent) and support from senior leadership (47 per cent) or their insurer (40 per cent).

“After more than 15 years in the wellness space, I’ve seen time and again how crucial it is for employers to recognize when there are problems in the day-to-day work environment,” said Danielle Vidal, director of business development at SSQ Life Insurance Co. Inc. “Until these are addressed by senior leadership, employers cannot implement wellness programs and expect to see positive results.”

Read more articles from the 2018 Sanofi Canada health-care survey

The issue of wellness programs is the subject of Benefits Canada‘s weekly online poll. In light of the survey’s findings, is the decrease in plan sponsors offering wellness programs a concern or does workplace culture matter more to employee well-being? Have your say in the poll.

Last week’s poll question asked whether the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario got it right in finding that rules allowing employers to terminate benefits at age 65 are unconstitutional. More than half (51 per cent) of respondents said agreed, suggesting the ruling was an overdue recognition that people are working longer. A third (31 per cent) of respondents said there are good reasons to end benefits at age 65 and suggested any change would be an undue hardship on employers. And the remaining 18 per cent said the ruling is a concern but felt it’s unclear what the implications will be for employers.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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