When choosing an employer, about 87% of prospective employees favor a company that has a wellness program in place, finds Virgin HealthMiles. The survey of almost 10,000 people shows that regardless of effectiveness, most employees say that wellness programs are an overall positive influence on the office culture (70%) and that participating in the programs has helped their relationships both inside and outside of the workplace (57.5%).  

“Employers are looking and see there’s a social and implied agreement with employees. Our clients see more happy and engaged long-term employees … with 83% saying that we are changing lives,” says Virgin HealthMiles chief executive officer Chris Boyce.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week released findings from a study conducted by industry researcher RAND Corp. on the effectiveness of wellness programs in improving Americans’ health and driving down health care costs. According the report, despite significant prevalence of wellness programs in the workplace (approximately half of all U.S. employers, with larger employers being more likely to offer than smaller ones), “our findings suggest that uptake of worksite wellness programs remains limited.”

A key finding that has received industry and mainstream media attention alike is that weight-loss components of employer-sponsored wellness plans average around a one pound decrease per year for three years. Employee benefits sales coach and EBA columnist Mel Schlesinger says this is not significant weight loss and does not look favorable for wellness programs.

“There’s no incentive strong enough to make somebody take charge of their health,” Schlesinger says. “The idea that wellness programs can make changes, it’s sort of a feel-good thing employers like to talk about.”

Boyce has a different view of the RAND study, however. “The trend overall is for people to gain weight, so if it’s holding flat that’s probably a good thing in this environment,” he says. “A lot of our clients see that as success. More often than not our clients say they see changes in behavior, biometrics, body fat and sometimes weight too.”

Schlesinger says the RAND findings by the government are not likely to have much of an impact and that companies will soldier on to search for effective wellness programs. “I don’t think anything will really change because too many people want wellness to be the answer,” he says.

The Virgin study also polled about 1,300 employers, 80% of which offered wellness programs, and of those that did, only 31% say they are satisfied with their wellness metrics.

For more on the wellness studies and regulations in the news this month, please visit the Newsmakers section of EBA’s July issue.

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