Survey: Employers spend about $700 per head on wellness incentives, but few workers partake

By Jonah Comstock
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Money TreeA new survey of 121 employers from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health shows that employer spending on incentive-based wellness programs is up an average of $100 per head over last year.

Respondents said they planned to spend an average of $693 per employee on wellness incentives in 2015, up from $594 in 2014. It was $430 five years ago.

While 79 percent of companies surveyed offered health improvement companies, large companies are leading the on spending. The average for companies with more than 20,000 employees was $878 per patient, up from $717 last year. Companies with 5,000 to 20,000 employees were closer to the overall average, at $661 per employee, up quite a bit from $430 in 2014.

“It’s extremely encouraging to see an ever-increasing number of companies embrace corporate wellness programs as a way to promote a healthy workforce,” Brian Marcotte, President and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, said in a statement. “As employers continue to look at ways to improve employee health and increase productivity, we expect to see employers continue to expand and evolve their wellness offerings, and find new and innovative ways to encourage employee participation levels and measure the success of their programs.” 

Another overall trend the survey revealed is that companies are increasing the amount they invest in incentive programs, including cash, gift cards, reduced health care premiums or a contribution to a health care account, and decreasing their use of disincentives.

Biometric screenings, health risk assessments, and physical activity programs were the most popular vehicles for promoting employee wellness: 72 percent of respondents plan to offer screenings, 70 percent plan to offer assessments, and 54 percent plan to offer physical activity programs in 2015.

Only 5 percent of respondents said they would disincentivize employees for not getting a biometric screening, down from 12 percent, and only 6 percent would use disincentives for health risk assessments, down from 11 percent. The exception was smoking cessation programs, to which 17 percent of employers continue to attach disincentives for non-participation.

The survey also asked respondents about participation in the programs they offered. They found that only 47 percent of employees, on average, earned all of the incentives available to them for health programs, while an additional 26 percent earned a partial amount of possible rewards.

“The next challenge for companies is to continue to find ways to increase participation in these programs and encourage employees to earn the full incentive amount available to them, which will contribute to their financial wellbeing as well as their physical health,” Robert Kennedy, Health and Welfare practice leader with Fidelity’s Benefits Consulting business, said in a statement. “The expanding use of wellness-based incentives demonstrates that employers are committed to health improvement programs and understand how they can contribute to a healthy workforce and reinforce corporate culture.“