Employers Expanding Efforts to Improve Employee Health

An emphasis on nontraditional wellness initiatives is growing as employers try to cut health-related costs, a survey finds.

Fifty-nine percent of businesses offer wellness initiatives primarily to invest in or increase worker health and engagement, while 41% aim to control or reduce health-related costs, according to a survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP).

The survey found that approximately one in four (26%) organizations with wellness initiatives is analyzing the return on investment (ROI) of its programs. Further, 93% of organizations that analyze and are aware of their wellness program’s ROI are achieving positive results. On average, organizations see a return of $3 for every $1 spent. A majority (54%) of organizations tracking more specific endeavors say wellness efforts have improved engagement, while another 45% say wellness efforts have reduced absenteeism, and 38% report wellness efforts have positively affected their organization’s overall bottom line.

Nontraditional wellness initiatives such as discounted wearable tracking devices, themed dress-up days, game leagues, collaborative work spaces, and standing/treadmill desks are emerging within the workplace. According to the survey, there is a growing emphasis on such initiatives, the most popular including:

  • Encouraged use of vacation time or time off – 66%;
  • Mental health coverage – 63%;
  • Tuition reimbursement – 63%;
  • Community charity drives – 57%; and
  • On-site events or celebrations – 50%.


Top traditional wellness initiatives include:

  • Flu shot program – 71%;
  • Smoking-cessation program – 54%;
  • Health risk assessments – 51%;
  • Health screenings – 50%; and
  • Wellness competitions or fitness challenges – 42%.

“Employers are taking a greater interest in the social and mental well-being of their employees,” says Julie Stich, Certified Employee Benefit Specialist, director of research. “Both traditional and nontraditional wellness benefits are creating the return on investment employers are looking for in their workplace wellness programs.”

The Workplace Wellness Trends survey included 479 benefits and human resources (HR) professionals, financial managers, and other professionals from the U.S. and Canada. Organizations represented a variety of sizes, regions, and industries or jurisdictions. The complete survey and more information are available here.