Wellness programs are ubiquitous in the corporate world, but have had limited success in reducing health spending or even improving people’s health status. They also have had problems getting employees to participate, and often non-participants have the greatest health needs. A brief from vendor HealthFitness describes research on participation in wellness programs and differences between participants and non-participants. (HealthFitness Brief) The survey which underlies some of the results found that only about 40% of employees participate in wellness programs. The primary reasons given for non-participation included lack of awareness about the program and lack of information on how to participate, cited by 70% of non-participants. About 60% of non-participants say that they are open to participating. Given the efforts most companies go to to publicize wellness, it is likely that a significant part of this “non-awareness” is willful; the employees are ignoring what is available because they don’t want to participate or don’t think they need the wellness help. Other reasons given for non-participation are inconvenience and privacy concerns. For those who did participate, a personalized approach in communications and participation, incentives, and ease of use were all important, including customized education and coaching. That can be expensive.
There does seem to be a clear difference between participants and non-participants in regards to work attitudes. In regard to the wellness program, as you would expect, 80% of participants say they are extremely satisfied with the offering, compared to 41% of non-participants and 76% of participants say they are healthy while only 63% of non-participants said so. But participating employees are also more likely to remain with the employer, to be more productive and to refer others to work at the employer. 70% also said that their employer’s offering of a wellness program was an indication that the firm cared about workers and 75% said the employer did support a health lifestyle. The biggest issue is getting those who say they are willing to participate to do so. This consumer engagement has proven remarkably difficult to crack. The HealthFitness piece suggests that company culture, abetted by social interaction and social media, can be very important in demonstrating to employees that engaging in good health practices is important. That may mean having leaders visible in engaging in wellness activities and making it possible to exercise or eat healthily or to reduce stress right in the workplace.