According to a survey from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health, 44% of companies nationwide had outcomes-based wellness programs in 2015. However, this percentage rose only a “statistically irrelevant” 2% from the year prior, which is a large and, for some, unexpected slowdown in the proliferation of these types of wellness programs.
Waning enthusiasm for outcome-based programs is being driven by several factors. First, employers have strategic priorities but have to make decisions on which ones move forward each year. Analysts are reporting greater interests in other areas of wellness and employee satisfaction (financial, emotional, etc.), and as a result, outcomes-based programs, which typically focus just on physical health, are being left on the back burner. Second, recent lawsuits and uncertainty around future legislation have employers playing the waiting game. Many companies are delaying certain programs until greater clarity on the regulatory environment is available. Certain states are trying to take matters into their own hands, but it doesn’t seem to be alleviating the concerns of most employers. Last, employers are beginning to break from legacy tools that are not recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force, such as biometric screenings. Biometric screenings are critical to outcome-based programs.
The last reason is why many skeptics of traditional wellness programs feel hopeful about the future of employees and their industry. Employers are finally beginning to realize that coercing employees is not a great strategy to achieve their long-term strategic objectives. Even if these type of programs could deliver the results vendors claim and employers expect, programs that alienate employees, hurt the company’s brand through public lawsuits, and comprise workplace culture and trust are just not good for business. This viewpoint is becoming more prevalent, which explains the sudden halt in growth of outcomes-based wellness programs. We encourage employers to focus on building culture, implementing effective solutions, and working with employees to improve their health.