Wellness Programs "Vital" During Difficult Times

March 17, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Many employers are increasing their employee wellness communications and most expect wellness budget cuts will be no greater than other cutbacks, because these programs help employees cope with issues brought about by the economic downturn, according to a survey by Buck Consultants.

“Despite pressure to reduce costs in many other areas of operations, 45% of respondents report increasing their wellness communications to highlight available services that can assist employees with issues brought on by the economic downturn,” said Ruth Hunt, a principal in Buck’s Communication practice who co-directed the survey, in a press release. Areas of support include Employee Assistance Plan counseling for stress or depression, and financial planning resources.

In terms of wellness budgets, 19% of respondents are likely to increase spending on wellness. Another 59% have experienced no budget changes, but many are nervous about the possible need to make cuts in the future, the press release said. However, among those expecting cuts, 78% expect them to be no larger than other corporate cutbacks.

“Our findings suggest that wellness has ‘come of age’ as a vital benefit offering, especially during financially difficult times,” said Barry Hall, Buck principal and global wellness leader who also directed the survey, in the announcement. “Since the onset of the financial crisis, workers’ use of wellness services has increased for 53% of respondents, and only 5% have seen a decrease.”

Other survey findings include:

  • Only one-third of companies have a culture of health today, but 87% intend to pursue this philosophy for the future.
  • The top priority for enhancing wellness programs is measuring outcomes (56%) – in terms of cost effectiveness, employee behavior, and health status.
  • The biggest barrier to achieving a culture of health is leadership commitment (47%).

Buck conducted its interactive audience survey with employer delegates attending the 4th Annual Employer Health & Human Capital Congress, held in February 2009.