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A recent study by Optum reveals that more than twice as many employers than ten years ago are looking to increase their investments in employee health and wellness. The 10th Annual Wellness in the Workplace study surveyed 544 employers with between 100 and 10,000 employees. Some of the key findings include:

  • More than 80% of employers surveyed plan to increase their spending on health and wellness programs in the coming years. That’s more than double the percentage from the first survey in 2009.
  • Employers recognize that the value of wellness programs goes beyond just reducing health-care costs. More employers than ever now recognize that wellness programs help reduce employee absences (79%), attract and retain talent (78%), and improve and maintain morale (76%).
  • Key areas targeted for increased wellness program spending include mental and behavioral health programs, women’s health services, telemedicine, and other technology-based wellness program benefits.


Incorporating Technology

Employers report much greater interest and participation in technology-based health and wellness benefits. Employees are increasingly interested in:

  • Online competitions and challenges
  • Activity and fitness tracking devices
  • Mobile health apps
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Virtual reality

A majority of employers who report investing in digital wellness technology rate their investments as “highly successful,” and most are planning to expand their digital offerings in the future.


Beyond The Gym

Employers are also looking at expanding offerings into the mental and behavioral health. Eighty-eight percent of employers plan to address the stigma associated with mental health within the next year, and 87% of employers express concern that employees do not have adequate access to behavioral health services. To help ensure that employees have the access they need to address mental and behavioral health concerns, employers are looking at a variety of ways to improve access, including digital tools, expanded provider networks, virtual visits, and elimination of lengthy wait times for appointments.

Other trends in wellness programs include expanding access to women’s health services and addressing complex and chronic health conditions. Increasing numbers of employers are also looking to expand offerings to family members and retirees.


Keeping Up With The Marketplace

The trends revealed by the Optum survey show that employee wellness programs are quickly becoming a differentiator in a competitive employee market. Employers who don’t invest in employee well-being will be left behind. Even more important, employers should recognize that employee health and wellness programs of the past—gym discounts and strict time off policies—aren’t enough to keep up with the market. In fact, some wellness program benefits should be updated or dropped entirely.

Successful wellness programs of the future will give employees highly personalized options to meet their individual needs. Those options won’t be limited to physical health; employees, especially millennials, are increasingly looking for benefits that address their mental, financial, social, and community needs.  These employees will look to employers who offer adequate wellness benefits when considering where they want to work, which is one of the many reasons wellness programs are good for business.

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