In-demand wellness benefits are seeing low engagement: Why?

Employers play a vital role in getting employees to utilize their benefits. Encouraging engagement through education and incentives is a win-win for all.

Nearly half of employees said an employer that offers wellness benefits and programs make them more attractive than other employers.1

But while many employers are investing in the well-being of their workforce by offering benefits and programs that support employees’ financial, mental, social and physical health, employers may be wondering how they can get employees to utilize those benefits.

Understanding what may be driving low engagement with wellness benefits and then finding creative ways to improve that engagement is critical for any employer looking to maximize their investment in their employees’ health and well-being.

The average employer offers 22 different well-being programs, with some offering upwards of 50.1

Factors driving low engagement in wellness benefits

Although every workforce is different, reasons for low employee engagement may include:

  • Lack of awareness – sometimes the reason behind employee disengagement with their wellness benefits is as simple as not knowing what is available
  • Unperceived value – if an employee doesn’t understand the value of utilizing their voluntary benefits, especially if they believe there is a cost to participate, they may not make the effort to engage with those offerings
  • Privacy fears – employees may worry that information they share or generate when participating in wellness programs about their overall health and well-being will be shared with their employer

Ways employers can boost engagement

Fortunately, there are several tactics employers can take to boost employee engagement, starting with communication.

Developing a communication strategy to educate employees about the wellness benefits available and how to access them is critical. It’s also important that these communications are deployed throughout the year, not just during open enrollment.

An effective communication plan also helps address employees’ concerns or barriers to participation, such as reassuring employees that their health information will be kept private and not shared with their employer.

Another tactic that can improve engagement with wellness benefits is to build an incentive component into the program. In fact, rewarding employees for participating in certain wellness activities, like biometric screenings and wellness visits, has shown to increase participation up to 73%.2

For instance, with UnitedHealthcare Rewards, eligible members can earn dollars for completing tasks like taking a health survey, getting an annual checkup, for completing activities and more. These activities can also be personalized based on employee preference and health journey goals.

And those incentive dollars may be used toward additional wellness offerings, such as a subscription to One Pass SelectTM. One Pass Select is a flexible fitness membership that gives employees access to a nationwide network of fitness locations. In fact, 76% of employees who signed up for the program were actively engaged.3

Some employers like Children’s Friend have even created their own wellness programs while others like the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, opened an on-site employee health center, complete with a workout facility, clinic and pharmacy, to make it even easier for employees to take care of their health and well-being.

Best practices for building a more engaged workforce

Employers who help educate their employees about their health plan and benefits can help drive engagement, which may result in better outcomes and lower costs.

2 out of 3 employees want more benefit education throughout the year.4

3 reasons why improving employee engagement in wellness benefits should matter to employers

When employees are more engaged with their wellness benefits, there’s a ripple effect, which may include lower employer costs, reduced employee stress and improved employee retention and productivity. 

Lower employer health care costs

Wellness programs often incentivize employees to incorporate healthy habits into their daily routines and to stay on top of their preventive care milestones. These behaviors may lead to a healthier workforce and even help prevent or mitigate chronic illnesses.

For instance, diabetes costs employers $245B a year — that breaks down to $175B on medical and pharmacy costs and $70B on costs related to employee absenteeism and reduced productivity.5 Wellness programs that empower employees to live healthier lifestyles and encourage them to partake in preventive care activities may in turn see a positive return on their investment (ROI). In fact, a recent study found that 90% of employers who implemented a wellness program saw positive ROI.6

Reduced employee stress and burnout

Employees under mental duress can experience many physical symptoms if they are unable to successfully relieve that stress. These symptoms can include trouble concentrating and making decisions, problems sleeping, headaches and stomach issues.7

Wellness initiatives can help arm employees with tactics to properly manage stress and prevent it from affecting them physically. Initiatives that include access to mental health resources to help employees cope with stress before it starts to affect them physically. And when it does, resources to help them take better care of their physical health by building healthy habits like eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and moving more.

Improved employee retention and productivity

According to Gartner, employees are increasingly looking to get personal value and purpose from their jobs and salary is no longer the only factor considered when seeking employment.8 That same study showed that employees are looking for work benefits that support their holistic well-being along with their financial well-being.7

It stands to reason that physically and mentally unhealthy employees aren’t always able to perform at their best and, depending on the severity of their condition, may not be able to show up to work at all — negatively affecting productivity.

Nearly 85% of employees who believe their well-being is supported by their employer intend to remain at their place of work, and employers that offer wellness programs have seen a 14–19% reduction in employee absenteeism.9

Key takeaway: It’s essential for employers to look at what factors may be contributing to low engagement levels and explore strategies aimed at increasing engagement with their wellness benefit programs. By taking action, employers can create an environment where workers feel supported in achieving better physical, mental, social and financial well-being — paving the way for improved job satisfaction, productivity and overall success for their business.

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