More than 156 million full-time workers in the U.S. spend most of their daily waking hours in the workplace. The importance of this statistic does not come as a surprise to anyone, as over half of all employers in the United States have some type of employee wellbeing or health-promoting program to ensure they are addressing the work-life needs of current and prospective employees.
Here’s what we know. The cost of benefits is constantly rising. Budgets for wellbeing programs continue to be scrutinized for value and effectiveness. And the desire for a culture where employees thrive is being endlessly demanded… from both employers and employees alike.
But when every dollar counts more than it ever did, how do you identify where to spend your money? What’s the secret sauce? I can’t tell you how many times we’ve started a meeting where our employer-clients all come to the table with the same request.
“What benefits can we offer that develop and foster healthy, happy, productive employees… but also, how do we do it with no budget, no resources, and can it be ready to roll out tomorrow?”
Our initial advice is always the same. When it comes to your employee benefit offering, the best thing you can do is be well-rounded, be personalized, and be meaningful by creating choices that fit what your employees are looking for. Easy, right? Not always.
If you’re not sure where to start, let’s look at some industry trends.
"When it comes to your employee benefit offering, the best thing you can do is be well-rounded, be personalized, and be meaningful by creating choices that fit what your employees are looking for."
Wellable recently released their 2020 Wellness Trends Report, quantifying where small, medium, and large employers plan on spending their wellbeing budget this year. The survey identified 20 specific programs and strategies – things like stress management, gym reimbursement, and telemedicine - that employers are investing in during the coming year. Respondents were asked whether they expect to "invest less, the same, or more" in the associated programs.
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Mental health (80%), stress management (73%), mindfulness and meditation (66%), and financial wellness (64%) programs ranked the highest in terms of the percentage of budget employers expect to “invest more in”. Considering that stress levels and mindfulness both play into overall mental health, these top programs overwhelmingly show employers’ focus and dedication to mental wellbeing. It's important to note that mental health concerns aren’t limited to employees who’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. Physical health, finances, personal family relationships, and job satisfaction are all triggers that affect mental wellbeing. Even happy events — like getting married, having a baby — can put tremendous amounts of stress on employees. Supporting employees with benefits for different life phases is a good way to remain well-rounded.
In addition to mental health, financial well-being continues to be an area of focus for employers. According to Wellable, educational resources (such as seminars and webinars) are the most popular type of financial wellness program. The downfall of these programs is that they do not address the specific and unique challenges that each employee may be facing. Since some employees need assistance with paying down student loan debt while others may need help planning for retirement, employers will need to adopt more tailored solutions to truly impact the financial health of employees.
As our large baby boomer generation continues to age, and more parents enter the workforce, companies are also focusing more on how they can support caregivers. Employers overwhelmingly favor flexible schedules (84%), remote work (67%), and paid time off (53%) as benefits of choice to support these workers. Offering support benefits allows caregivers the schedule flexibility they desperately need without sacrificing income, and they usually do not require a high amount of resources to implement.
Reduce Rethink Replace
Health risk assessments (39%), biometric screenings (34%), health fairs (30%), fitness classes (25%), and health coaching (25%) ranked the highest in terms of the percentage of employers expecting to “invest less in”. The common theme among these programs (and others that ranked high for less investment) is that they are services. Services tend to be harder to scale, cost more per engaged employee, and are often unavailable to remote employees.
Additionally, since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) vacated wellness rules at the beginning of 2019, employers requiring screenings or mandatory assessments run the risk of lawsuit. Because of this, the number of companies planning to "invest less" in biometric screenings rose by 5 percentage points for biometric screenings and 12 for health risk assessments. (It is important to note that after the data collection for the Wellable report was completed, the EEOC announced that it plans to provide guidance on wellness program regulations in January 2020. Any changes in response to the new guidelines is not capture in the report’s results.)
In general, the decline of these benefits may reflect a growing disinterest in impersonal resources, as workers seek more individualized solutions. Classes and fairs, by design, target broader audiences. Both health fairs and fitness classes can be replaced with more individualized options, like a monthly wellness credit or a personal gym reimbursement. For the same amount (or less) money, employees have the opportunity to engage with wellness activities they want to participate in at a time that works best for them.
As fitness classes and health coaching drop in numbers, we see these benefits being commonly replaced with online or mobile app group wellness challenges. According to Wellable, 91% of employers are spending “more” or “the same” amount of money than previous years on these services. Wellness challenges delivered through technology ensure a consistent experience to multiple office locations and remote employees. As employers embrace a more flexible work environment, the value of a digital solution becomes evident beyond just exercise – by encouraging group participation, it helps improve employee engagement and builds culture through a sense of belonging to your organization.
Chief Engagement Officer
Grooms Benefit Solutions
Download the full 2020 Wellable Trend Report here.
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