Making Room for Wellness

Many workers are reporting that their companies don’t offer wellness benefits, according to a recent poll.

The poll, commissioned by Workplace Options, a company that provides integrated employee well-being services, revealed that 55 percent of working Americans say their employers do not offer support, assistance or benefits designed to help them improve physical health or wellness.

The results varied by gender, with 61 percent of women reporting no access to employer-sponsored wellness support, compared with just 48 percent of men who said the same.

The poll’s findings are in contrast to a 2015 report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that found that 70 percent of U.S. employers were offering a general wellness program—with an additional 8 percent planning to introduce wellness benefits in 2016.

“If more than 70 percent of companies are offering wellness programs, but less than half of employees report having access to them, then something obviously isn’t adding up,” stated Dean Debnam, chief executive officer at Workplace Options, in a press release. “Employers might have programs or support structures in place designed to keep employees healthy and well, but if employees don’t know about them or have no idea how to access them, then they are basically useless.”

The majority of employees (61 percent) stated that they believed their employer cared about the health and wellness of employees. Men and women saw eye-to-eye on this topic, with 59 percent of women and 63 percent of men in agreement.

“The disconnect between what employers say they are offering and what employees believe they have access to is not the result of animosity or strife; it’s a simple perception problem,” Debnam said. “If the programs available are things that employees either don’t want or don’t use, they might as well not even exist.”

Respondents also were asked which area of physical health and well-being were most important to them, personally. The following were the top three categories:

  • Nutrition/Healthy Eating (34 percent)
  • Weight Loss/Fitness (33 percent)
  • Emotional/Mental Well-Being (20 percent)

“Employees were very clear that these three categories were far and away the most important to them in terms of personal wellness,” Debnam said. “If employers want their wellness offerings to be successful, they should make sure they are making some kind of support or assistance in all three of these areas available.”

Additional results from the poll showed the following:

  • 89 percent of employees reported that maintaining physical health is something that is personally important.
  • 74 percent of employees said they at least sometimes took time to exercise (walk, jog, stretch, work out, etc.) during the workday.
  • 56 percent of employees said that they at least sometimes took time to focus on their mental health during the workday.

“The takeaway point for employers is that perception does not always equal reality,” Debnam said. “Effective employees are the most valuable resource any organization can have. If an organization is offering support programs that are unknown, unused or ineffective, then they aren’t going to produce results.”

The national poll was commissioned by Workplace Options and conducted by Public Policy Polling.

Reprinted from PREMIUM INCENTIVE PRODUCTS magazine

Fitness Monitors Threaten to Oversaturate the Health Data Market

Some of the hottest selling wellness products on the market right now are apps and gadgets that monitor a person’s vital signs, such as Fitbit, Nike+ and a slew of different step-counting gizmos.

While these products are all the rage for independent consumers and employers who seek to promote better health among their employees, several wellness experts have expressed concern that the physical wellness data market is becoming oversaturated and the attention spent on the other aspects of wellness — such as mental, social and financial wellness — is getting lost in the pursuit of miles walked and stairs climbed.

Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at G2 Crowd, says physical wellness data has received so much attention due to the desire from individuals to be physically healthy and because physical wellness is much easier to track and manage, as opposed to the other pillars of wellness.

The easiest wellness

“We have this major proliferation of devices and yet we haven’t gotten to the point where the features and the benefits are compelling enough for everyone to want to participate,” Fauscette says. “Physical wellness is an easy place to focus because you can instrument that, it’s obvious, it has outward benefits and, in other words, it’s the easiest.”

Dave Osterndorf, partner and chief actuary for Health Exchange Resources, agrees. He says that while wellness experts discuss expanding into other avenues of wellness such as mental, social and financial, very little is being done to expand into those realms.

“Historically, it has been a challenge for people to put those total health pieces together as effectively as they can,” says Osterndorf. “An employer’s ability to tie together everything from an employee’s 401(k) and HSA balance, to their health status information and any kind of individual healthcare plan, to their underlying benefits programs and over into EAPs and workplace wellness efforts, have all been put into different pieces that are typically run by different vendors.”

Osterndorf admits that while it is “a nice idea” for employers to integrate all aspects of wellness into one program; gathering these elements from different fit-tech providers can be tricky.

Shan Fowler, a thought leader for Benefitfocus, says he has seen many tech companies attempt to enter the health data market ever since Benefitfocus began as a tech startup themselves back in 2000. He adds that many have failed due to issues such as funding difficulties and missing their target audience.

“There are several overlapping circles that influence investment in health data,” Fowler says. “It can fall into several categories, like claims data, wearable data or electronic health records.”

Distinct divide

Fowler says there is distinct divide between products and apps that are marketed toward individual consumers and products that are marketed toward employers. Fowler mentioned wearables such as Fitbit and the app MapMyRun, which was purchased by Under Armor, are focused more toward independent consumers, while programs that focus on claims data and biometric screenings are being marketed toward employers seeking to build a strong wellness program within their company.

These employers offer workers some amazing perks along the lines of tech titans like the social media giant.

“Large companies see health data as a way to continue having influence in people management, and one of the biggest proponents to seeing so many start-ups is because of the Affordable Care Act,” Fowler says. “There is a direct result where grants were being assigned by the ACA to health insurance co-ops to drive a more value-based healthcare as opposed to what we currently have: ‘fee for service.’”

After the government shutdown in 2013, one of the agreements to getting the government back up and running was the discontinuation of funding co-ops. This has left many start-ups that were being funded to eventually go under before their five-year period of investment could finish.

“On the flipside, last year, the government invested $5.8 million in the healthcare space and I think it hasn’t been entirely insulated but fairly well insulated so that we don’t suffer from problems like other countries have,” Fowler says.

Experts like Fauscette say health data still has a long way to go before all avenues of expansion have been covered. Plus, although the market may be oversaturated now, the market has yet to mature fully to allow for innovators to explore profitable options.

Reprinted from Employee Benefit News


Wellness Programs: Get Results or Go Away

If you haven’t been keeping tabs over the last few months, there has been some increasing friction between the EEOC and the corporate world over a seemingly harmless set of programs focusing on employee wellness. Note that this is primarily focused on health and wellness programs, not those targeting financial wellness.

While this has been frustrating for those affected, it does provide an impetus for companies that is long overdue. In the long run companies will focus more on wellness programs that actually bring results, not just on checking the obligatory box on a list of employee benefit offerings.

Wellness by the Numbers

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Health survey:

  • 94% of firms with over 200 employees offer wellness programs
  • 11% of those organizations have penalties for employees that do not complete all required health management procedures
  • 9% of large companies penalize employees for not meeting specific biometric outcomes (BMI, cholesterol, etc.)

Wellness is here to stay, with the majority of companies believing that offering these types of options will help to lower insurance costs over time.

The Battle for Wellness

Orion Energy Systems was a typical organization with regard to its wellness program. It required health-related actions from its employees and used incentives/penalties to encourage the behaviors consistent with its wellness program goals. But it didn’t turn out so well.

Orion instituted a wellness program that required medical examinations…  When employee Wendy Schobert declined to participate in the program, Orion shifted responsibility for payment of the entire premium for her employee health benefits from Orion to Schobert.  Shortly thereafter, Orion fired Schobert.

For reference purposes, Orion meets the “large company” criteria in the Kaiser report cited above.  Here’s what happened next:

Orion Energy Systems violated federal law by requiring an employee to submit to medical exams and inquiries that were not job-related and consistent with business necessity as part of a so-called “wellness program,” which was not voluntary, and then by firing the employee when she objected to the program, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed recently.

In case you’re wondering, Orion is not the only organization that falls into this category. Honeywell International also had an opportunity to face the ire of the EEOC for similar reasons.

The Outlook on Wellness

The EEOC has just released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) with regard to this complex issue. This breakdown by the Jackson Lewis law firm is a great look at some of the key areas of the proposal, but one piece in particular stuck out for me (emphasis mine):

“The NPRM requires that if an employee health program seeks information about employee health or medical examinations, the program must be reasonably likely to promote health or prevent disease. Employees may not be required to participate in a wellness program, and they may not be denied health coverage or disciplined if they refuse to participate.”

Believe it or not, after all of the time, legal battles, and other resources expended on the world of wellness, it comes down to whether or not the program is actually going to promote health or prevent disease. We actually have to measure these initiatives and not just put blind faith in their ability to make our employees and organizations healthier. If that sounds a bit harsh, I’d advise you to check out this discussion on the results of wellness (or a lack thereof). On the other hand, companies like Johnson & Johnson have been more successful.

There are other aspects, such as voluntary participation and limits on incentives, but I think it’s just one more push in the direction of measuring everything and only pursuing those that are going to deliver results. Not everything that is measurable matters, but everything that matters should be measurable.

About the Author:

Ben Eubanks is an associate HCM Analyst at the Brandon Hall Group, a preeminent research and analyst firm covering Learning & Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition, and Human Resources.

Pin It on Pinterest