Employers Hunt for Ways to Boost Wellness Payoff

Employers Hunt for Ways to Boost Wellness Payoff

Ask the HR directors of companies without a wellness program why the businesses haven’t taken the plunge, and you’ll likely get a mix of answers. The challenges of keeping employees engaged and the time needed to run the program are a few common reasons for taking a pass on wellness.

Inevitably, however, a big chunk of the hand-wringing over a full-blown wellness program boils down to costs, experts say — specifically, the costs of starting and maintaining an initiative and the difficulty of measuring the financial benefits.

Recent research, however, suggests that wellness pays off for employers that are willing to stick with it. A report in the American Journal of Health Promotion finds that for every dollar spent on costs, employers can expect about $3 in overall medical savings within just two or three years.

“The study provides support for continued investment, but reminds employers that health management is a multi-year investment strategy,” Seth Serxner, the study’s lead author, told Health Behavior News Service.

Yet even those employers that currently support wellness programs have a hard time wrapping their minds around wellness ROI, a separate study suggests. More than three-fourths of employers who have initiatives in place remain in the dark about the ROI of their programs, according to a PLANSPONSOR report on a study by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (NBGH).

Fortunately, employers can rely on a number of simple and low-cost ideas that can help them get over the ROI hump and create a program that improves workers’ lives, according to Tammie Brailsford, executive vice president and chief operating officer of MemorialCare Health System in California.

“Instead of building a fitness center, offer employees a pedometer, mealtime walking programs and sessions on achieving better health,” Brailsford said in SmartBusiness Orange County. “Costs can be minimal — from $50 to $500 or more per employee annually, plus incentives for health improvement.”

Those incentives can increase overall costs, but most employers remain committed to them, the Fidelity/NBGH study found. Seventy-three percent of companies with wellness programs used incentives in 2011, with an average value of $460. That compares with an average incentive value of $430 in 2010 and $260 in 2009.

But the real value of incentives shouldn’t be tied solely to cost, warns Renay Gontis of JRG Advisors. The incentive needs to be not only desirable but also in sync with the goals of the wellness program, she said.

“The last thing an employer wants to do is to offer counterproductive incentives such as membership in a cake-of-the-month club or a gift certificate to an all-you-can-eat dinner,” Gontis told SmartBusiness Pittsburgh. “A few positive incentive examples include fitness club memberships, new walking/running shoes, massages and paid time off.”



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