While more employers are offering workplace wellness initiatives, many miss the mark on gauging their impact, finds Buffett & Company’s 5th National Wellness Survey.

The survey, sponsored by Sun Life Financial and Pfizer Canada, gathered responses from more than 600 organizations on key wellness issues and workplace programs.

A whopping 91% of organizations said they offer wellness initiatives, noted Dr. Catherine Connelly, an associate professor at McMaster University, at a Wednesday breakfast session to discuss the survey results. This represents a steady increase from 44% in 1997, when the survey was first conducted. “If you’re not doing this, you’re the outsider,” said Connelly. “Most companies are prioritizing wellness.”

Looking at specific wellness issues, stress is clearly a concern for employers. Respondents identified work-related stress as the No. 1 health risk for their organizations, followed by mental health issues, high blood pressure and non-work-related stress.

Yet employers don’t always focus their wellness strategies on implementing targeted programs to reduce these risks. Connelly said there is often a disconnect between the wellness initiatives that employers offer—the top three are employee assistance programs, first aid/CPR courses and flu shot programs—and the main health risks that their organizations face.

Even more troubling is the fact that the majority of companies (62%) do not evaluate their wellness initiatives to determine whether or not they are effective. Perhaps that’s one reason pinning down the return on investment of wellness programs has proved so elusive. “Failure to measure is a lost opportunity,” confirmed Ed Buffett, president and CEO of Buffet & Company Worksite Wellness Inc.

To determine the ROI of wellness, many CEOs and CFOs may be fixated on hard-dollar returns. However, Buffett argued that this expectation may not be realistic. “[ROI] is out there; we’re just looking for it in the wrong places.”

Where should employers look for ROI? Buffett encouraged employers to examine areas such as employee engagement, absenteeism and disability claims, noting that participation rates can provide valuable information on the effectiveness of a wellness program and how it is communicated. He added that short-term disability claims experience can illustrate the impact of shorter-term initiatives (flu shots, for example).

On the bright side, “there’s certainly a far greater awareness of wellness and employee health,” Buffett affirmed. However, when it comes to measuring the impact of the programs designed to address these issues, there’s still more work to be done.

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Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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