Wellness Benefits Disappearing From Workplaces

A survey from the Society for Human Resource Management shows that a number of wellness benefits have been slowly disappearing from the workplace landscape. Now in its 20th year, the SHRM survey polled 3,490 H.R. professionals at companies of various sizes in a wide range of industries. The survey now covers about 330 benefits, compared with about 60 benefits two decades ago.

The survey showed that the share of employers offering core benefits, like health care and retirement accounts, has remained steady, while wellness benefits, like on-site flu shots, 24-hour nurse hot lines, and health coaching, have all declined over the years. The number of employers offering health coaching fell from nearly half to just 37 percent, and the number of employers making seasonal flu vaccinations available at work fell from 61 percent to 54 percent today. The number of employers offering onsite health screening dropped from 53 percent to 31 percent.

Wellness programs have been growing in popularity with employers over the past 20 years as a way to cut employers’ health costs, but now it appears that employers are cooling toward certain wellness benefits. The reason for the drop for certain benefits may be that the companies are beginning to review which ones are most effective while canceling the ones that do not show much return on investment. Because wellness programs vary widely, it can be difficult to measure the programs return on investment for the company.

Roughly 92 percent of the surveyed employers indicated they offered some type of wellness benefit, but only 61 percent offered a full-on wellness program to its employees, down from 70 percent last year. The survey found that 77 percent of companies with wellness programs found that they were “somewhat or very effective in reducing health care costs.” However, there is little evidence that wellness programs produce a significant monetary return on investment for employers.

Previous research has shown that the wellness programs most effective at producing savings for companies are the ones that are the cheapest and least-intense. Some wellness benefits actually increased during the time period. The number of employers reporting offering standing desks rose from 25 percent to 33 percent last year. About 26 percent of employers reported having an on-site fitness center, up from 21 percent a year ago.