Most employers have at this point established employee wellness programs in their continuing efforts to rein in health care costs, and many of those programs use incentives. However, according to research conducted by EBN parent company SourceMedia and released this month by bswift, the majority of employers overlook crucial methods and practices that could significantly up engagement and lower the bottom line.

“High levels of participation are critical for wellness program success, but companies are falling short when it comes to outcomes-based incentives that reward participants for their actions and increase engagement in these programs,” says Brad Wolfsen, executive director at bswift, a benefits software and solutions provider. “To move the needle on wellness, assessments must be objective, progress must be measurable and employees must be invested in their own wellness success.”

Indeed, the study, conducted in conjunction with EBN, reports that while 85% of large companies and 81% of smaller companies have wellness programs, only 44% of wellness plans have employee participation rates above 50%. Seventy-eight percent of large companies and 69% of smaller ones use incentives to spur participation, but those incentives apparently aren’t getting through.

Incentives should be shifted to more results-based, bswift says; only 15% of large employers offer incentives or disincentives for meeting or exceeding biometric thresholds, for example, despite the fact that 77% have biometric testing in place (up from 61% last year). Additionally, bswift says, not enough employers are leveraging defined contribution strategies to increase consumer engagement or up-to-date benefits automation to lower administrative costs.

“What it boils down to is that employers are being too simplistic when it comes to wellness offerings and making things too difficult when it comes to benefits administration,” says bswift CEO Rich Gallun. “As employers peruse cost containment strategies such as wellness, defined contribution and consumerism, automation and technology can amplify the impact by more efficiently and effectively communicating with employees and freeing up the time of HR professionals to focus on these strategic initiatives.”

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