Financial health and telemedicine are the top targets for expansion in employee wellness efforts.
According to a new survey, employers are planning to increase their investment in employee wellness moving forward. Overall, companies are putting more into health and well-being programs, with 35% planning to invest more this year, versus 14% expecting to invest less. Employers have targeted some specific areas for investment. These include stress management, financial wellness, mental health, telemedicine, mindfulness and meditation, and wellness challenges.
Financial wellness (68%), telemedicine (61%), and stress management (58%) rated the highest as areas in which employers plan to increase their investment. This isn’t especially surprising, as employees often rate stress, anxiety, and depression as leading workplace-related health issues; and financial security is a top cause of stress for many workers, especially low-wage earners. As for telemedicine, many employers see this as a way to manage healthcare expenses and enable care for rural or remote employees.
How do employers plan to invest in these hot areas? According to survey results, 81% plan to conduct educational programs on financial issues, including seminars, webinars, and similar resources. Just over half (54%) plan to offer digital financial tools and retirement planning, as well as student debt assistance and 401(k) matching programs. To address mental health and stress, 67% of respondents said they plan to invest in employee assistance programs (EAPs), 46% plan to provide more education (including seminars, webinars, and other resources), and 30% are looking to offer flexible work schedules.
Employers are planning to invest less in several areas. About a third (30%) said they are cutting back on investments for fitness classes, 29% for biometrics screenings, 27% for health risk assessments, and 23% for health coaching. These all share some commonalities—they are harder to scale, cost more per engaged employee, and are often inaccessible by remote employees. In general, however, they are losing support because employers see them as ineffective and, in some cases, unpopular. Biometric screenings might be the exception. The decreased interest in this is likely related to the judicial system recently vacating Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) wellness rules. As a result, employers requiring screenings run the risk of lawsuits.
The survey identified six factors that companies consider when making wellness benefit decisions. There are measuring ROI from benefit changes, rising costs of benefit, uncertainty about healthcare reform, matching employer-employee interests, data security, and creating competitive benefit plans. More than three-quarters (79%) of respondents said they were especially motivated by the rising costs of benefits, and 73% identified creating competitive plans as a leading influence. Despite all the talk in Washington about repealing the Affordable Care Act, only 25% of respondents said their plans are significantly influenced by healthcare reform uncertainties.