Most Employers Don't Measure Success of Wellness Programs

February 5, 2009 ( - A recent survey conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans (IFEBP) found employers use wellness programs to control health care costs and help workers feel better, but most are not measuring their success with these goals.

When asked their primary reason for offering a wellness program, the largest proportion of survey respondents (46%) cite controlling health care costs, followed by 35% who say they want to help workers enjoy better overall physical health, according to a press release.

Many of the wellness program sponsors are unsure to what extent they benefit from wellness programs, but about half say they benefit through improved worker health and morale, the press release said. Only 13% of the sponsors measure the return on investment (ROI) of their program, but of those who do, 78% report a positive return, with the majority seeing returns in the range of $1.01 to $4.00 for each dollar spent.

The survey found wellness programs are fairly new to most organizations, with 67% of respondents indicating their initiatives have been in place for four years or less. Participation rates for wellness programs are modest and vary by initiative, with few initiatives having participation exceeding half of employees. Health fairs, health screenings and health risk assessments had the highest participation rates.

To encourage employee participation, four-fifths of wellness program sponsors say they use some type of incentive. Non-cash incentives (e.g. prizes and raffles) are the most prevalent (39%), followed by gift cards (32%), cash rewards (22%), and insurance premium reductions (22%).

The IFEBP survey found common screening and prevention initiatives in employer wellness programs are flu shot programs (82%), health risk assessments (73%) and health screenings (69%). Sixty percent of program sponsors offer smoking cessation programs, and 49% offer a weight loss program.

In the area of fitness and nutrition the most prevalent initiatives include wellness competitions such as walking and fitness challenges (48%), and healthy food choices in the cafeteria or snack areas (42%). About a third of program sponsors offer onsite fitness equipment (33%) or offsite fitness programs/subsidies (32%), according to the press release.

Common approaches for disseminating health and wellness information include online resources (61%), health fairs (57%), nurse advice hotlines (53%), and wellness newsletters (52%).

The survey, Wellness Programs, Second Edition, includes responses from 586 wellness program sponsors in the U.S. and Canada. There is also a collection of 115 samples of wellness materials including program descriptions, promotional materials and survey instruments.

Wellness Programs, Survey & Sample Series (Item #6610) is 801 pages and costs $138 (I.F. Members $55). The publication is available in print (with sample collection on CD) or CD format. To order visit or contact the Foundation Bookstore at or call (888) 334-3327, option 4.