For more and more employers, wellness programs are become more than a means to reduce healthcare costs. Instead, they’re being viewed as a way to attract better talent, retain it and increase productivity.

Improving employee productivity is now one of the top three reasons for offering health and wellness programs, according to a study from Optum.

“There’s a recognition that the impact of this program does go beyond wellness costs,” says Seth Serxner, the chief health officer and senior vice president of Population Health at OptumHealth Care Solutions. “We are still doing ROI, but in addition to impact on cost, employers want to see the impact on disability, productivity, health, and impact on overall business performance metrics.”

This focus on wellbeing metrics has led employers to look at value on investment rather than return on investment.

“ROI is the cost of how much money you’ve spent versus how much you save,” says Ron Goetzel, vice president of consulting and applied research at Truven Health Analytics and a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “VOI is how much you’re spending for how much you’re getting, like employees sticking around and better company reputation.”

Measurement challenges
But even as employers recognize the importance of looking at less-tangible benefits, they have limited ways to measure their impact. When an employers’ saving on healthcare costs, the evidence is right there — they saved money or they didn’t. These are harder outcomes to measure.
“I think you need both ROI and VOI,” says Alan Kohll, the president and founder of TotalWellness. “More companies do just focus on ROI because that is the easier thing to measure, but both together will really drive home the importance of a wellness program.”

Only 32% of employer respondents on Optum’s report thought productivity easy to measure. Employee morale metrics were even more elusive at only 30%.

The longer employers’ have wellness programs in place, the easier it is to see such less tangible benefits and find efficient ways to measure them. Optum found that as wellness programs mature they are significantly more likely to track things like safety and employee morale. Some have used tactics like surveys that anonymously ask employees about their engagement and satisfaction at work.

“As we have these programs for a long time we see their benefits is something more than financial,” Serxner says. “They can see the benefits in other ways that impact culture and change.”

Brokers can also step up to better show the value of these programs. Less than half of employers reported they were able to demonstrate the value of health and wellness to their organization. Brokers should be clear with their vendor partners and offer their clients a dashboard of key metrics with transparent information.

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