A survey that gauges employers’ attitudes and strategies on the different stages of implementing a wellness program finds that more senior-level executives are supporting the company’s wellness initiatives.

Senior management’s support of improving employee health jumped to 42% in 2010, compared with 6% in 2009, according to experts in Willis North America’s human capital practice.

In the survey, participants were asked to describe wellness program components, incentives, participation rates, vendor satisfaction and how program results are measured. The company polled 1,949 individuals and 71% of participants employed 500 or fewer workers. 

"While it is encouraging to see organizational support at the senior level significantly increasing, the survey [also] indicates a need to focus programs on increased employee engagement,” says Cheryl Mealey, national practice leader of wellness consulting, at Willis North America. "Senior management is really starting to embrace the idea that our health impacts how we work, and how we work impacts our health," she adds.

Survey participants ranked "management support and a strong internal leader championing wellness within the organization" as the two most important factors in maintaining a successful wellness program. Other key factors cited to sustain a strong wellness program included marketing and communication efforts, setting specific goals and strategic planning.

Meanwhile, Mealy advises employers to invest more resources in training to assist mid-level managers to better understand the link between health and productivity.

"Our survey findings show that only 5% of respondents offer such training. The relationship an employee has with his or her direct supervisor is of paramount importance, not only in relation to engagement and job satisfaction, but also to overall health and well-being," she explains.

Also, "[o]rganizations need to rethink their incentive and communication strategies and determine whether their approach is resulting in compliance with a series of defined tasks, or true engagement in health improvement and ultimately in the success of the business. Increasingly, we are seeing that the two go hand-in-hand," Mealey adds.   

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • One-third of employers did not agree that financial rewards should be used to encourage healthy lifestyles, a 15% increase over the 2009 survey results.
  • Nearly 45% of participants reported insufficient time or not enough staff as the most significant barrier to offering a wellness program, followed by budget constraints at 43%.
  • Fifty-three precent of employers indicated they had some type of wellness program. Of those with a wellness program, 57% describe their program as "basic."
  • Seventy-eight percent of employers reviewed their health care cost trends prior to implementing a wellness program.
  • Only 28% of responding employers have a specific and defined strategy in place to improve employee engagement in the workplace. Of the organizations that have a formal strategy, 64% considered their worksite wellness program to be an important part of their overall employee engagement strategy. 
  • About 38% of survey respondents indicated they did not have sufficient data to calculate ROI.   

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