New survey: Employees say wellness programs improve health, productivity

More than half of employees with access to workplace wellness programs say the initiatives have a positive impact on their health, according to UnitedHealthcare’s 2018 Wellness Check Up Survey.*

In addition, most employees without access to wellness programs said they want them, especially Baby Boomer employees, according to the annual survey, which examines employees’ opinions nationwide about company-sponsored wellness programs and other health-related subjects.

The Wellness Check Up Survey highlights why employers are increasingly investing in wellness programs, with 70 percent of companies offering such initiatives compared to 58 percent in 2008, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

There are good reasons why workplace wellness programs are increasing in popularity among employees and employers, according to Rebecca Madsen, UnitedHealthcare chief consumer officer.

“This year’s results underscore the importance of workplace wellness programs, which can encourage well-being, prevent disease before it starts and, as a result, help lower medical costs,” Madsen said. “By investing in wellness programs, employers are in a unique position to drive engagement and create healthier, happier and more productive workforces.”

More than half (53 percent) of people with access to wellness programs, said wellness programs improve their health, the survey found. Employees said the programs have helped them in numerous ways, including paying more attention to their health (88 percent); losing weight (67 percent); upping productivity (62 percent); cutting down on sick days (56 percent); and detecting disease (30 percent).

Three out of four (73 percent) of employees who do not have access to wellness programs wanted access to them, including 42 percent who are “very interested.” Nearly 85 percent of Baby Boomers – defined as people between 54 and 72 years old – want wellness programs, more so than any other age group.

But there also appears to be an opportunity for wellness programs to be even more effective in engaging employees in their health. Just 29 percent of all respondents said they are willing to devote an hour or more each day to health-related activities, such as consistent exercise, researching healthy recipes or engaging in wellness coaching. Among employees with access to a wellness program, 31 percent said they are willing to devote that amount of time each day to their health, compared to 26 percent without access to a wellness program.

Meanwhile, many employees may overestimate their activity levelsNearly three of four (74 percent) of employees claim they meet government recommendations for physical activity, defined as at least 2 ½ hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two days or more per week with moderate- or high-intensity muscle-strengthening activities. However, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that just 20 percent of Americans meet those recommended guidelines.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • More employees own activity trackers now than in recent years. More than twice as many employees own an activity tracker today than in 2016 (27 percent versus 13 percent), comparing the results of the new UnitedHealthcare survey to an earlier one.
  • Most employees recognize the value of meditation. Most employees (89 percent) said meditation, or mindfulness, has a positive impact on a person's overall health and well-being, including 41 percent who believe such activities can have a “significant impact.”
  • Most employees understand the connection between hearing and overall health. Most respondents (94 percent) understand that exposure to loud sounds can cause hearing loss, including 50 percent correctly recognizing that both one-time exposure to a loud sound and cumulative exposure to moderately loud sounds can harm hearing health. Nearly 80 percent said hearing loss can also affect a person’s health through increased risk of depression (64 percent), higher risk of falls (47 percent) and greater risk of dementia (35 percent). Less than one in five respondents (16 percent) incorrectly said that hearing loss has no connection to overall health.  
  • Many employees do not recognize the connection between lifestyle choices and chronic health conditions. Just one in six (16 percent) of survey respondents correctly recognized that as many as 80 percent or more of the incidence of premature chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, are caused by modifiable lifestyle choices by rather than genetic factors. More than one-third (34 percent) thought between 50 percent and 79 percent of premature chronic conditions were caused by lifestyle choices, while 45 percent said genetics were to blame for more than half of these diseases.

The UnitedHealthcare “Wellness Check Up Survey” was conducted April 5-8 and April 12-15, 2018, using ORC International’s Telephone CARAVAN omnibus among a landline and cell phone probability sample of 630 adults ages 18 and older and employed full time in the continental United States. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. For complete survey results, click here.

For more information about wellness programs, contact your UnitedHealthcare representative.