Although employee “well-being” programs remain highly popular, few employers actually have a strategy behind them.

The key to success with such programs is looking at their constituent elements with the goal of integrating them into a coherent effort, according to WorldatWork’s 2015 Total Rewards and Employee Well-Being Practices research. “By viewing well-being in an integrated way,” the report’s authors stated, “organizations may have a better understanding of what these programs and initiatives can do in creating an atmosphere for employees at work and beyond.”

Well-being programs, elements of which are offered by 96% of the survey base, are broader in scope than traditional “wellness” plans. Workplace safety, work-life balance programs (e.g., child care assistance), and financial education, for example, come under the employee well-being umbrella in WorldatWork’s analysis.

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The poll asked employers to compare the effectiveness of various program components in achieving targeted outcomes both when part of a “traditional” wellness program, and as part of an “integrated well-being” effort. Results were more commonly ranked as “extremely positive” or having a positive effect when the program was part of an integrated package.

The following are targeted outcomes for which the integrated strategy received substantially higher number of “extremely positive/positive effect” ratings than when the target was attacked with a “traditional wellness” program. The first number reflects results from integrated efforts, and second, when part of a “traditional wellness” program:

  • Employee engagement: 80%, 54%;
  • Health care costs, 73%, 53%;
  • Disability costs, 60%, 38%.

The benefits of an integrated program were less evident for reducing absenteeism, boosting employee productivity and reducing employee stress.
Bulking up

Most employers are planning to bulk up these programs over the next two years: 62% said they plan to “increase” them, and 13% are planning “considerable” increases.

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Employers’ prime motivation for doing so: increasing urgency over reducing the rate of increase in health care costs. Other goals, in descending order of priority, are increasing employee productivity, raising the organization’s competitive advantage, “demand from employees,” and lowering absenteeism.

If the organization were to scale back its commitment to employee health, the following well-being programs were identified as most likely to be dropped: disease management, behavioral health risk assessment, yoga, resiliency training and “meditation/mindfulness training.”

Despite the absence of a well-being strategy, 72% of surveyed employers make an effort to measure program effectiveness. The 10 most prevalent metrics for assessing effectiveness, and the percentage of survey respondents reporting they use them, are as follows:

1. Participation rates, 52%;

2. Health care costs, 37%;

3. Employee satisfaction surveys, 31%;

4. Awareness of programs, 22%;

5. Employee engagement scores, 22%;

6. Screening results, 17%;

7. Absenteeism rates, 16%;

8. Disability costs, 16%;

9. Turnover rates, 14%; and

10. Employee focus groups, 9%.

More than 400 employers of varying sizes and industries participated in the survey, previously conducted in 2011.

Richard Stolz is a freelance writer based in Rockville, Maryland.

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