Employees Want Improved Wellbeing Programs

Fifty-six percent of employers say their programs incite a healthier lifestyle among participants, but only 32% of employees concurred, surveys from Willis Towers Watson found.

Parallel to the growing need for benefits aside savings education, a survey from Willis Towers Watson confirms employees long for quality wellbeing initiatives from their employers, too.  


According to the Willis Towers Watson 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes survey, almost two-thirds of employees (65%) consider health management a top priority. On the plan sponsor side, a Willis Towers Watson Best Practices in Health Care Employer survey found 87% of employers see a significant importance with raising employee engagement in health and wellbeing. Yet, as the want for company-implemented health and wellbeing programs heightens, the 2017 survey found 56% of employers say their programs incite a healthier lifestyle among participants, but only 32% of employees concurred.


To solve these low rates, Willis Towers Watson says employers are eyeing ancillary paths to alter health behaviors, one being financial incentives. In 2017, 46% of employees said they would only participate in wellbeing programs if remunerated, a considerable increase from 35% in 2011. Also, 54% of employees believe they should be financially rewarded for incorporating healthy habits into their regimen.  


“More employees are looking at financial incentives as an entitlement, which means it can be difficult for employers to take the incentives away. Yet, our research and experience show these rewards are not effective except when used in specific ways, such as discrete tasks that offer an immediate payout,” says Steve Nyce, senior economist at Willis Towers Watson.


To combat this desire for incentives, Willis Towers Watson suggests plan sponsors take a step back, and reevaluate the connection between program design and longer-term participant behavioral changes.


“Employees do not want to be told what to do, rather, they want to be supported with programs that lead to improved well-being,” says Nyce. “It’s an essential balance that’s not very easy to achieve.”


According to the survey, employees with poor health are twice as likely to be disengaged at work than those with higher fitness levels. Additionally, these same employees will take three times as many days off as those in better health, says Willis Towers Watson.

Linking physical and financial health


Uniting physical and financial wellbeing through technology can give drowsy participants a boost, says Willis Towers Watson, as employees are exercising tech now more than ever. The survey found three in five employees apply technology to manage health, and one four in (41%) use wearables to monitor fitness activity or sleep. Thirty percent will oversee eating habits with technology. Now, as technology rapidly transcends into the retirement planning realm, employers may look into incorporating online tools—like social media—to connect with participants.


“Technology can be key to integrate these programs that link multiple areas of an employee’s life and help to create a consumer-grade experience that is critical to attracting employees and sustaining employee engagement,” says Cara McNulty, senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson.


Aside from technology and the digital spectrum, Willis Towers Watson recommends integrating health-conscious workplace environments intended on encouraging participants to eat clean, exercise, breathe fresh air and tackle stress. One way employers can achieve this is by establishing on-site or near-site services, says Willis Towers Watson. In fact, the survey found that participants who highly valued these services were more inclined to appreciate their employer’s wider wellbeing programs too. Fifty-eight percent of those whose employer provided on-site or near-site services agreed they were satisfied with their employers’ programs, compared to 25% of employees whose employers failed to do so.  


“If there was ever a time for employers to rethink their approach to wellbeing, it’s now,” says Shelley Wolff, senior health care consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “High-performing companies are already revamping their approaches by targeting chronic conditions, evaluating the workplace environment to better support well-being and using social networks to engage employees more effectively. We fully expect other employers will begin to adopt new approaches that examine workforce generational needs, target and personalize programs, and emphasize flexibility and mobilization to meet employees where they are.”