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Health and wellness efforts: Stuck in neutral?

Nov. 20, 2015
Health and wellness are falling flat among U.S. workers; that's not good for trucking.
Apparently, the attempt to foster greater health and wellness among U.S. workers is falling flat, according to a survey by global professional services company Towers Watson – even despite financial incentives being provided to encourage greater participation in corporate health and wellness programs.

That doesn’t bode well for trucking, where truck driver health issues can affect a whole host of operational metricsespecially safety.

Driven by ongoing concerns over worker stress (75%), obesity (70%) and sedentary lifestyles (61%), employer commitment to health and productivity remains strong, according to Towers Watson’s Staying@Work Survey, which polled 1,699 companies in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia back in May and June this year.

Indeed, that poll found that a large majority (84%) of U.S. employers identify health and productivity improvement as essential or moderately important to their health strategies, with over three-quarters (77%) of U.S. employers expect their organization’s commitment to increase or significantly increase over the next three years.

Yet despite offering a wider array of programs to enhance worker health and productivity, U.S. employers said they are finding it difficult to change the lifestyle behaviors of their employees, noted Shelly Wolff (at left), a senior health care consultant at Towers Watson.

“U.S. employers have long recognized that the health and productivity of their workforce can influence business success and create competitive advantage,” she said.

“Yet while the hot-button issues of stress and obesity remain ever-present, the numerous programs and incentives designed to combat them have failed to effectively engage employees," Wolff added.

While Towers Watson’s Global Benefit Attitudes Survey found that health is a clear employee priority among U.S. workers, employees have not connected to their employers’ well-being programs.

Only one-third said the well-being initiatives offered by their employers encouraged them to live healthier lifestyles. In addition, 71% of employees prefer to manage their own health, and nearly one-third (32%) said the initiatives offered by their employers don’t meet their needs.

Nearly half (46%) don’t want their employers to have access to their personal health information, in part due to privacy concerns, and close to one-third (30%) don’t trust their employers to be involved in their health and well-being, the firm found.

In the last year, only 50% of employees participated in a well-being activity or health management-related program, Towers Watson reported, with individual program participation was even lower, ranging from 48% for health risk and biometric assessments, to 22% for worksite diet/exercise events, to 8% for healthy-sleep or tobacco-cessation programs.

On top of that, the “incentives” to join such programs aren’t amounting to much. On average, employers offer their employees $880 through a range of annual incentives, Towers Watson said, but employees collect only $365, with two-fifths of all employees saying they don’t earn any incentives at all.

“Employers recognize that employees are leaving a lot of money on the table,” noted Steven Nyce, senior economist at Towers Watson. “The good news is, employers are doubling down on their commitment to build a culture of health and improve the employee experience through technology and personalized communication. They can also be heartened by the progress some employers are making.”

Indeed, the vast majority of organizations (88%) in the Towers Watson survey offer their employees financial incentives for participation in their health and wellness programs and plan to reassess their incentives over the next three years.

Towers Watson also found that companies with the most effective health and productivity programs had more employees participate in their programs and fewer employees using tobacco, at risk for high glucose and with hypertension. Those “highly effective companies” in the words of Towers Watson also reported fewer days of unplanned absence and lower annual medical costs per employee per year.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • A little more than half of employers today do not have an articulated health and productivity strategy. However, in three years, nearly half of the organizations plan to include a health and productivity strategy as a key component of their organization’s employee value proposition to help attract and retain talent and motivate employees.
  • Many employers do not currently measure the impact of their health and productivity programs. While 77% of employers measure program participation to a moderate or greater extent, only 53% use a variety of financial and nonfinancial benchmarks, and only 46% measure the ROI of their programs.
  • Employers are taking a broader view of well-being by connecting financial well-being to health. Nearly half of employers (47%) offer financial well-being programs as part of their overall wellness offerings, with another 33% planning or considering offering by 2018. There is also growing interest in adding new tools and technologies to help employees manage their financial lives.

Thoughts to consider especially as the focus on truck driver health will only increase in the months and years ahead.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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