Employers Are Cutting Back on Some Wellness Programs

June 20, 2016, 9:34 PM UTC
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Wellness programs have been a growing hit with employers over the past 20 years—but recent evidence suggests companies are starting to scrutinize which ones are most effective while lopping off the fat.

A wide-ranging new survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest human resources trade organization, details how employer benefits have shifted since 1996. Wellness benefits have seen a clear boom: 78% of surveyed businesses offered wellness benefits (including health resources and information) in 2016 compared to just 54% two decades ago.

But certain wellness programs have been on the decline over a more recent time frame.

“Onsite seasonal flu vaccinations, a 24-hour nurse line, health and lifestyle coaching, and health care premium discount for not using tobacco products and for participating in a weight loss program have all decreased compared with 2012 and 2015,” wrote the study authors.

However, other benefits, like incentives to complete certain health programs and offering resources such as standing desks, fitness centers, and nap rooms, have become more popular. SHRM says this “could be an indication that organizations are being more strategic in selecting effective wellness programs for their employees.”

For instance, more companies have been charging employees who smoke a surcharge in recent years rather than offering a discount for abstaining, suggesting that firms have found the stick to be more effective than the carrot.

There’s conflicting evidence on wellness programs’ overall ability to boost public health and cut spending in a meaningful way. But the new SHRM survey shows there’s still plenty of enthusiasm for the benefits, and that 77% of companies with wellness programs found that they were “somewhat or very effective in reducing health care costs.”