According to a new report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than 2/3 of U.S. employers offer wellness programs as part of their benefits packages. The report found that 70% of U.S. employers currently offer a general wellness program, up from 58% in 2008. An additional 8% of employers plan to offer a general wellness package in the next 12 months. Five-year trend data shows wellness programs are the only preventive health and wellness benefit offered by more employers in 2015 than in both 2014 and 2011. SHRM surveyed 463 HR professionals from 22 industries throughout the country.
What may be the most interesting statistic from this report is the recent impact and popularity of wearable devices and wellness challenges (often these two come together). Company-provided fitness bands or activity trackers and company-organized fitness competitions and challenges currently have employer participation of 13% and 34%, respectively. According to Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs, participation is typically around 2% or 3% during the first year a benefit is offered.
Although 13% and 34% may sound like humble numbers relative to other wellness offerings, wearable devices and wellness challenges are showing significant growth and are the future of wellness. This is attributable to their efficacy in getting employees sustainably engaged relative to wellness 1.0 solutions. Wellness 1.0 relies on costly, one-time services like health risk assessments and biometric screenings, both of which are heavily criticized my numerous academic papers. Also, wellness 1.0 programs may include telephonic health coaching and other costly and people-intensive services.
On the other hand, wellness 2.0, which embraces the wearable and mobile app movement, delivers sustainable engagement solutions through automated tracking and easy-to-use technologies. These technologies also serve as digital health coaches replacing more expensive people-based solutions. Despite the great adoption levels, we are still in the early history of the mobile health movement. Just two days ago, we talked about how Jawbone added payments (through American Express) to its device and how this non-wellness feature would improve adherence to the wellness device. Jawbone, Fitbit, and other wearable device and mobile app producers will continue to improve their products as they mature, which will increase the value proposition to employers and drive them to further adopt wellness 2.0 solutions.