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Study: More employers are pairing wellness programs with incentives

According to the Society for Human Resource Management 2011 Employee Benefits Research Report, the percentage of human resources practitioners who indicated that their organizations are offering corporate health and wellness programs has plateaued around 59 percent for the fifth year running. This is a surprise considering the increase in the number of companies looking to mitigate rising healthcare costs without reducing benefits.

"We don't see wellness programs growing (but) there's a huge opportunity here," Mark Schmit, director of research at SHRM, told Workforce Management magazine. "In a meta-analysis of 56 studies that look at the impact of wellness programs, it was found that for one dollar spent an employer can reap six dollars of benefit. It's surprising that more organizations aren't taking advantage of them."

Of respondents without employee health and wellness programs, 8 percent reported an interest in launching the benefit within the next 12 months. Although the number of organizations with wellness programs to workers continues to plateau, the percentage of those that offer the incentive of employee rewards or bonuses has increased by 8 percent since 2008.

Respondents who indicated that their companies did have a health program in place were surveyed about its specific components.

A total of 42 percent of respondents reported providing health screening programs, 39 percent hold health fairs and 37 percent offer health and lifestyle coaching. To encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles, 30 percent have a weight loss program, 36 percent offer smoking cessation assistance, 17 percent offer nutrition counseling and 12 percent have a stress reduction program.

In terms of encouraging workers to exercise, 30 percent said they offer a fitness center membership subsidy or reimbursement and 4 percent offer subsidies or reimbursements for fitness equipment. A total of 24 percent have a fitness center on-site and 16 percent host on-site fitness classes.

With regard to healthcare premium discounts, 14 percent indicated that they offer discounts to employees who undergo an annual health risk assessment, 12 percent give discounts for not using tobacco products, 11 percent offer discounts to those who participate in a wellness program and 7 percent use discounts to reward employees for their weight loss efforts.

According to a recent Deloitte study, reducing the cost of providing healthcare benefits to active workers is employers' number one priority.