Companies Increase Wellness Incentive Dollars

News Updates

Most U.S. companies plan to increase the dollar value of the incentives they offer employees to participate in health improvement programs in 2012, according to an employer survey conducted by Fidelity Investments and the not-for-profit National Business Group on Health.

The survey was fielded Nov. 1-Dec. 30, 2011, among a national sample of U.S. companies ranging in size from 1,000 to 100,000 employees. It is the latest in a series of studies Fidelity and the Business Group have conducted since 2009 to analyze the growth of health improvement programs in the workplace. These programs typically consist of condition-management services (such as managing insulin treatments), lifestyle management services (such as weight loss advice) and health risk management services (such as on-site flu shots).

Among the top findings from the survey:

  • Almost three out of four companies (73 percent) used incentives to engage employees in health improvement programs.
  • The average incentive value was $460. That figure has increased steadily from an average of $430 in 2010 and $260 in 2009.
  • Employers used different types of incentives, including cash, gift cards and contributions to health savings accounts.
  • Incentive-based programs had a better-than-expected success rate at increasing employee participation, the majority (57 percent) agreed.

    "Incentives have come a long way from a free T-shirt and a water bottle," said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president of Fidelity's benefits consulting business, which commissioned the study with the Business Group. "As companies have increased their commitment and investment in health improvement programs, they have made their incentives more enticing. They have also learned which programs resonate best with their workforce, whether that involves on-site flu shots or weight loss challenges. Now employers are starting to see results from their efforts."

 'Incentives have come a long way from
 a free T-shirt and a water bottle.'

More Tie Wellness Participation to Health Coverage

A small but growing number of companies are requiring employees to participate in health improvement programs in order to be eligible for medical benefits. The survey found that:

  • Biometric testing. In 2011, 5 percent of companies required their workers to complete biometric testing (such as cholesterol screening) or be excluded from coverage. That number was expected to nearly double in 2012 to 9 percent.
  • Health risk assessments. Likewise, 7 percent of companies required completion of a health risk assessment in 2011. In 2012, 10 percent of companies will require it.

"Employers are increasingly expecting employees to take steps to improve their health, conditioning even access to health benefits on meeting certain requirements," said Helen Darling, president and CEO of the Business Group. "This isn't surprising given how much control employees can have over their own health and how much poor health habits cost employers."

Funding for Programs Holds Steady

Among other highlighted findings:

  • Program costs. Incentives aside, employers spent on average $169 per employee on health improvement programs in 2011, up from $154 in 2010 and $108 in 2009.
  • Most popular offerings. While smoking cessation and employee assistance programs (EAPs) are the most prevalent lifestyle management offerings in the workplace, 51 percent of companies offered healthy cafeteria food options in 2011 and 16 percent were expected to introduce such choices in 2012.
  • Health care advocates. Among health risk management programs, 11 percent of companies are planning to introduce health care advocates (who help employees find medical specialists and navigate the health care system), up from 46 percent of companies in 2011.
  • Disease management. Condition management programs are expected to remain unchanged from 2011, with companies investing the most in managing conditions related to diabetes and asthma.