Employers taking ‘step back’ from wellness programs

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Employer adoption of wellness programs has seen a dramatic jump in the last 20 years, but new research from the Society for Human Resource Management suggests plan sponsors are starting to re-evaluate their programs.

In 2016, wellness programs were offered by 72% of employers, up from just 54% in 1996, although there has been a decrease compared with 2012 and 2015. And while weight-loss and smoking-cessation programs “have stood the test of time,” other wellness program components have not, said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs during SHRM’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

“I think wellness is here to stay,” she added. “However, it may be that organizations are taking a step back, to see what’s working.”

SHRM’s annual benefits study details more than 300 benefit offerings. “While there have been changes over the last 20 years, what stood out are some of the core benefits employers offer haven’t changed too much,” said Esen.

“In 1996, we saw benefits used [as] more of a one-size fits-all strategy compared to today’s more demographically targeted benefit offerings,” she said. “When we think about some benefits like LASIK or gender reassignment surgery, it’s a high-cost benefit, but offered as a way to appeal to select employees an employer has determined would be attracted to these benefits.”

During the most recent recession, benefit offerings didn’t see as much creativity, she noted, adding that when the economy is stronger and there’s a war for talent, more interesting perks start to appear. “These are benefits that stand out because few organizationa offer them, but it shows how some [companies] strategically use benefits in order to meet business needs,” she said.

“When we see these, we usually see them in the tech or start-up industries and later embraced by the larger employer base,” she added. “Some [benefits] like egg freezing for nonmedical reasons … and student loan repayments, they’re great ways to attract top talent.”

There are some benefits, though, that never seem to go out of style. One of the biggest trends that emerged from the study is the increase in telecommuting.

In the last two decades, the percentage of employers offering telework has jumped from 20% in 1996 to 60% today. Those offering telework benefits to employees on an ad hoc basis also went up between 2012 (45%) and 2016 (56%).

In a separate SHRM study released this week, employers reported increasing their training benefits as a way to deal with skills shortages. Thirty-nine percent of employers report they’ve increased their training budgets in the past 12 months.

“HR professionals from all industries report a highly competitive market for talent, with recruiting difficulty reaching levels not seen in years,” said Jen Schramm, manager of SHRM’s workforce trends and forecasting program.

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Wellness Wellness programs Wellness program ROI Health and wellness Healthcare plans Employee benefits Benefit strategies Healthcare benefits Benefit management SHRM