Corporate health and wellness programs may be coming up short

Stethoscope and globe
Initiatives to drive employee wellness being may be coming up short. (Image: Getty/sunstock)

Corporate health and wellness programs have been getting plenty of attention, but employees are at odds with their employers over how effective these initiatives are, a survey found.

A majority of employers (56%) believe their well-being programs have encouraged employees to live a healthier lifestyle. Only 32% of employees agree, said the report by Willis Towers Watson.

“Employers tend to overestimate and oftentimes it is not consistent with the broader population,” Shelly Wolff, a senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson, told FierceCEO. “Employees are saying, ‘They are not reaching me the way I want them to.’”

Different demographics are also in play, Wolff said. “Different employees have different needs.”

The findings are in addition to nearly two-thirds of employees (65%) saying managing their health is a top priority, while at the same time, 87% of employers say increasing employee engagement in health and well-being is a top priority.

Of course, many companies have wellness programs that they feel very much meet the needs and desires of their employees.

Eric Cormier, a senior human resource specialist with Insperity, said offering employee wellness or fitness options can provide a lift for companies trying to attract top talent.

On-site gym facilities, health club membership reimbursement and courses in healthy living habits “are benefits businesses may want to consider in order create a competitive recruiting boost while also encouraging the wellness of current employees,” Cormier said. “Regular exercise can have a positive effect on energy levels and mental health, and for the fitness-conscious job candidate, these types of incentives may be a large draw. A focus on wellness also reinforces a company’s commitment to the employee as an individual, which in turn can lead to higher engagement and retention rates.”

“Let’s start by stating the obvious: employees of a wellness business should be healthy,” said Solis Mammography’s CEO, James Polfreman.

“In business, employee wellness has a duality of impact,” Polfreman said. “Employee health is a cost to the company, and not just the expense of providing benefits. It cuts into the bottom line for the company overall, as we pay higher insurance premiums, more sick days are taken, productivity is lost, and short-term disability is often tapped. For these reasons, employee wellness is no longer a human resource issue, but rather a broader business issue.”

As a result, “for the individual and the company, my leadership team has been quite strategic and intentional about developing a robust team member wellness program,” Polfreman said. “We’ve demonstrated this in several ways, which is our version of putting our money where our mouth is.”

At the University of Richmond, “We want to provide structure for employee wellness resources and promote a culture of wellness,” said Heather Sadowski, assistant director of wellness. “Our goal is to provide resources for the whole person, as demonstrated in the eight dimensions of wellness, physical, intellectual, emotional, financial, spiritual, occupational, social and environmental.”

This is a “collaborative partnership between recreation and wellness and human resources for outreach efforts on our campus,” Sadowski continued. “We wanted to provide structure for employee wellness resources and promote a culture of wellness. Through the initiative, we offer multiple programs, services, and assessments to our employees at a discounted or free rate.”