Employees Know Less than Employers Realize About Health Benefits

June 5, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A gap exists between what employers think their employees know about health and wellness benefits and what employees actually know, a survey found.

While more than half of employers believe employees have a good understanding of their benefits and how they can participate, only 41% of employees say they had a good awareness of available programs, according to Virgin HealthMiles. Fewer than half say they understand how to participate. “If employees aren’t aware of their employers’ programs and how to participate, health behaviors won’t change,” said Chris Boyce, chief executive of Virgin HealthMiles. “This is a traditional problem with how employee health and wellness has historically been done. If organizations don’t get this right, they won’t get the business impact they seek from their employee health investments.”

One impact of health investments is seen in recruitment and retention. More than 89% of employees say an employer’s range of health and wellness benefits is either very or somewhat important in their choice of employer.

Despite the human resources advantage, just 9% of employers have adopted consumer-driven communication channels to promote their employee health programs. Instead, employers use traditional methods such as periodic e-mails, intranets and websites, on-site posters and signage, newsletters or company publications and health fairs or on-site events.

With these methods of promotion, employees are confused about the benefits available to them. Employers usually offer smoking cessation, health reimbursement accounts and physical activity programs. However, when asked if their companies offered those benefits, employees said, “I don’t know.”

In addition, the survey found only 36% of employers say they get the information they need to make practical decisions about their strategies, and just 13% are very satisfied with their provider’s ability to help measure the impact of their investments. This lack of insight affects service provider satisfaction levels: only 16% of employers are very satisfied with their provider’s impact on helping employees change behaviors.

To help drive employees in their plans, more than two-thirds of employers say they offer incentives. Nearly 39% align incentives for a combination of program participation and outcomes; 26% align incentives for program participation only and 2% for outcomes only. Survey results show incentives work: 58% of employees said incentives are a very important factor in their participation.

The survey was conducted by e-mail April 25 to May 11. Employers were surveyed by Workforce Management magazine, which contacted 772 employers across the U.S. Participating employees were 6,756 members of Virgin HealthMiles. 

A copy of the survey is available here.