Wellness Programs Pay Off Beyond Lowering Health Costs

August 15, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A new survey suggests workplace wellness programs not only help reduce employers' health care costs and employee absentee rates, but can also pay off in the form of more loyal and engaged employees.

According to a Maritz press release, its survey found even employees who only occasionally participate in wellness programs are more satisfied with their jobs (20% v. 13% who never participate in a wellness program), more likely to remain with the company long term (27% v. 18%), and more likely to recommend the company as an employer to a friend or family member (32% v. 21%).

“[I]t’s no secret that employers and insurance companies see corporate wellness programs as a lifesaver that could keep them afloat,” said Mindy McGrath, vice president of strategy for Maritz’ health care sector, in the press release. “We hypothesize employees who participate in wellness programs may see them as a lifesaver as well, which may give them a heightened perception their companies care about their personal well-being, making them feel better about their workplace.”

The poll data also showed a relationship between the level of participation in a wellness program and absenteeism at work.

Only 14% of people indicating regular, once-a-week participation in a wellness program said they took five or more sick days within the past year, whereas 23% of those indicating infrequent participation and 25% of those who never participate in a wellness program said they took five or more sick days in the past year.

However, Maritz found employee participation in wellness programs is low and relatively unchanged from its last survey.

Sixteen percent of survey respondents indicated they participate in a wellness program at least once a week or more, compared to 19% who said so in 2006. Twelve percent indicated participating at least once a month (versus 16% in 2006), and 25% said they participate occasionally (versus 21% in 2006).

The survey suggests offering incentives can increase wellness program participation levels.Nearly one-in-four (23%) survey respondents said they participate once a week when offered a reward or incentive for achieving specific health goals. Once-a-week participation declines to 16% when no incentive is offered. Similarly, Maritz said, non-participation is 36% when no reward is offered (versus 21% when an incentive is present).

"We also know it's critical to offer rewards at key points during the program -- not just at the launch," said McGrath, in the press release. "Those rewards must stir the imagination, encourage goal setting, allow reinforcement, repetition and create lasting goodwill and behaviors."