As employers face growing challenges with employee disengagement, many are looking toward wellness programs as the surest route to improve morale and workplace culture. And while the Affordable Care Act offers improved incentives to support workplace wellness programs, employers aren’t rushing to take advantage of them.

The ACA increases the maximum permissible reward under a health-contingent wellness program from 20% to 30% of the cost of health coverage, and raises the maximum reward to as much as 50% for programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use.

Yet nearly half of employers say they aren’t planning to take advantage of the increase in wellness incentives provided by the ACA, while 13.7% weren’t even aware that there were such incentives.

Jennifer Turgiss, VP of health solutions at Virgin Pulse, a wellness vendor that surveyed 361 employers for their views on workplace wellness priorities, says many companies say the administrative burden is too large and they don’t have the resources to manage it.

Another challenge companies face, she says, is the multiple components of the ACA wellness regulations. If an employer wants to be compliant, they need to get some good legal advice. “Again, it’s spending more money to remain in compliance,” she tells EBN, of employers’ reluctance to use the ACA incentives.

Also see: Wellness nondiscrimination rules challenge employers

The types of wellness activities employers offer have fluctuated over the years, with some growing in popularity and others declining, yet the majority of activities have seen an increase since 2012.

Physical activity and weight management programs have seen the biggest dive since 2012. The percentage of employers offering physical activity programs at work has decreased to 53% in 2014, from 57% in 2013. Weight management programs, meanwhile, have also seen a small decline, with 47% of employers offering them in 2014, compared to 48% in 2013.  

Of all the programs offered, mental health/depression programs have grown the most, close to 12% in the past three years.

Also see: How to make wellness work

Employers are making measurable progress in aligning their workplace wellness programs more closely with their employees’ needs and interests, the report states. Additionally, gaps between employees’ most prevalent programming interests and the specific wellness activities and resources employers most frequently offer have narrowed considerably since 2013.

Results from the survey show that employees are also seeing the benefits of workplace wellness programs, reporting improved company culture and health, and increased energy and productivity in the workplace. Eighty-seven percent of employees say wellness programs positively affect company culture and 96% are participating in them to improve their own health.

Despite these findings, many employers are struggling to commit to, and measure, the effectiveness of strategies that drive employee engagement, productivity, and happiness. Forty-eight percent report that they don't track engagement and 53% report they don't measure productivity.

Chart data source: Virgin Pulse

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