Study: Corporate Wellness Programs Declining

Workplace wellness programs may be on the decline, according to an annual survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Onsite seasonal flu vaccinations, a 24-hour nurse line and health and lifestyle coaching – in addition to a premium discount for not using tobacco products and for participating in a weight loss program – have all decreased in the past year.

For example, the percentage of employers who offer health coaching has fallen from nearly 50% to 37%. Also, 54% of employers are making seasonal flu vaccinations available at work, down from 61% last year.

It’s not that employees aren’t taking advantage of the benefits. In a poll of 3,490 HR professionals at companies in a wide range of sizes and industries, SHRM found that participation in wellness initiatives has increased over the past four years. About 82% of organizations with a wellness program rated their initiatives as “somewhat” or “very” effective in improving employee health.

More important to business owners, 77% indicated their wellness program was “somewhat” or “very” effective in reducing health-care costs.

So why are wellness programs leveling off? Ron Williams, director of marketing at Fey Promotional Products (asi/54040), says they’re simply being adjusted to best fit each workplace’s needs. “Employers are relying less upon third-party services and relying more on internal committees,” Williams says. When the Affordable Care Act rolled out, insurance companies developed a system that was designed to cut employers’ health costs. Employers didn’t know what programs to institute, Williams said, so they just went along with whatever the insurance companies suggested.

“Now that employers have done their research, they know how to minimize the costs,” Williams says. “They’re getting smarter about it.”

Programs with low employee participation or those proving to be relatively ineffective may be replaced with other programs. For example, 20% of organizations reported having a smoking surcharge for employee health-care coverage, which may be why fewer companies are offering a premium discount for not smoking.

Joshua Ebrahemi, vice president and partner at Jack Nadel International (asi/279600), says that he hasn’t seen new workplace wellness programs being developed because his company focuses on recurring and retention-based programs. “I can’t imagine it dropping off much further because every employer wants their employees to be healthy,” he says.