Primary Care Emphasis and Incentives Pay Off in Workplace Wellness Programs

Employers are taking control of health care costs by creating smart, effective new strategies to keep employees healthy and to keep employees at work during tough economic times. And, according to a recent national wellness survey, employees who take control of their health and are more engaged and active in their own health management are more valuable assets.

Despite tight economic times, paying employees to participate in worksite health and wellness programs is a common and successful practice among employers of all sizes to boost program success and return value. Almost two out of three U.S. companies offer programs to keep employees healthy, and 66 percent of those offering programs also use incentives, with a healthy number showing an ROI of greater than $1 for each dollar spent.

The findings are part of a survey conducted by Health2 Resources, a health marketing and public relations company, to determine what activities employers incentivize, and how success and return on investment is measured. The web-based survey of 372 small, medium and large U.S. companies employing 1.8 million employees was conducted to determine the prevalence of employer-based programs to keep employees healthy and the use of incentives within those programs as a tool to encourage participation, engagement and program completion. This past year many small-to-midsize companies were included in the survey, not just larger organizations. The survey explored several new trends, such as the role of primary care in prevention and health-management programs, and extension of programs to spouses and children.

Key findings:

The use of a confidential health history/questionnaire is an important starting point for worksite wellness and disease management. Two out of three employers ( large, mid-size and small) offer a health risk assessment to employees, and nearly three out of four of those offer incentives to take it. Incentives to take the questionnaire range up to $300 annually, with about 10 to 15 percent exceeding $300.

Smoking-cessation programs are the most popular health and wellness program offered. More than half of employers surveyed (53 percent) offer smoking cessation to employees, but weight management and physical activity programs are not far behind. 

Perks matter. The value of incentives is up, averaging $329 in 2009 and ranging from $1 per pound for weight loss to annual premium reductions valued at more than $1,500. The most commonly used incentive is premium reductions, followed by merchandise/tokens and gift cards. Employers offer cash and gift cards to spouses and family to keep them healthy. More than half of the companies surveyed offer health and wellness or disease management programs to spouses and a third extend the programs to other family members.

Company size matters, but doesn’t dictate value of incentives and investments in wellness. Among large employers, a bigger percentage offer programs and incentives when compared to small and mid-sized companies.  However, results count, and employers are counting. The percentage of companies successfully measuring return on investment for health and wellness programs has sharply increased over the years, from 14 percent in 2007 to 73 percent in 2009. Some 83 percent of those who have measured say the programs return better than 1:1 on their investment. In growing numbers, employers are rewarding goal achievement during and after health and wellness program completion.

“Employers are becoming more sophisticated about measuring the return on investment from wellness and disease management programs, and today’s economic outlook dictates that these programs bring a positive ROI,” said Sean Sullivan, president and CEO of the Institute for Health and Productivity Management. “No other kind of health management program has been given the same scrutiny as health and productivity management in measuring its effectiveness in reducing total health-related costs, including sick days, disability claims and impaired performance at work. Employees are too valuable a human capital investment for companies to take their health and productivity for granted.”

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!