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Noteworthy: A New Spin on Wellness

November 18, 2016

Recent surveys and reports suggest employers are questioning the value of traditional wellness programming and considering health and wellness efforts in a more expansive manner.

According to data from CUPA-HR's 2016 Higher Education Employee Healthcare and Other Benefits survey, higher education workplace wellness programs are on the decline, with roughly 57 percent of responding institutions offering a formal wellness program, down from 70 percent in 2012. Additionally, the number of institutions planning to institute a wellness program decreased by 30 percent since 2015, with wellness staff and budgets also showing significant declines.

A recent PlanSponsor report, Employees Find Wellness Programs Ineffective, found that 59 percent of respondents said their benefits are "very important," but only 25 percent believed the health and wellness programs offered by their employer were effective in making them healthier. While 49 percent thought that keeping employees healthy should be a top priority for their employers, 66 percent indicated that employers seem more focused on managing costs.

And there could be some truth to that sentiment. Reporting in Human Resource Executive Online related to the 2016 Employee Benefits survey of the Society for Human Resource Management notes that 66 percent of organizations have reduced their health-related benefits, and 19 percent have streamlined wellness benefits. Some of what is getting trimmed are things like on-site flu shots, nurse hotlines, and health coaching as employers take a closer look at actual utilization rates and beneficial outcomes for certain services. But, employers have largely done so seeking to reallocate resources to health and wellness programs and services that are more widely relevant and effective. As workforce demographics shift and new health technologies become more prominent, employers will likely continue to routinely reassess where to allocate precious health and wellness spending.

And that makes good sense, according to a blog posting by Willis Towers Watson Senior Consultant Jeff Levin-Schertz and Senior Economist Steve Nyce. In Time to Reconsider Well-Being Programs, Levin-Schertz and Nyce assert that among the changes needed in today's employer-based wellness programming is a shift toward "well-being" programming that focuses on financial, social, and emotional health in addition to physical health.

In fact, there is evidence that more employers are recalibrating their wellness agendas to include these other components for a broader focus on well-being. The Links Between Finances and Health, a recent Voya Financial case study prepared as part of a CUPA-HR white paper series, presents research tying physical health and productivity to financial well-being, offering tips for how colleges and universities can help employees get financially fit. Working Well: A Global Survey of Workforce Wellbeing Strategies published by Xerox Corp. likewise makes the strong connection between financial and physical health and emphasizes the need for employers to build a culture of well-being in the workplace.

As reported in HR Daily Advisor, the 7th annual survey on corporate health and wellbeing conducted by Fidelity Investments Benefits Consulting and the National Business Group on Health reveals that more employers are adding stress management programming and "resiliency training" designed to help employees better manage personal and professional setbacks. And the Willis Towers Watson 2015/2016 Staying@Work—United States Research Findings: Improving Workforce Health and Productivity survey finds that, rather than a decline in their commitment to employee health, 84 percent of U.S. employers say that employee health and productivity is a core component of their strategy. A whopping 91 percent of employers plan to formalize their health and productivity strategies and customize their programs to address specific employee impacts of stress, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and poor nutrition, for instance.

Perhaps one additional health-related factor more employers might seek to improve for the benefit of employee well-being and productivity is the workplace itself. Environmental Leader reports that a new study by the U.S. Green Building Council and Dodge Data & Analytics details how better designed buildings can improve the physical, social, and mental well-being of occupants. Through features like daylighting and use of zero volatile organic compound paints and glues, organizations not only stand to save electricity costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also to improve occupants' moods and reduce their exposure to chemical agents.