Unique, yet simple, wellness strategies on the rise

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Wellness, in no surprise, is on the rise. A survey of employers released yesterday by OptumHealth shows 40% of respondents anticipate that their company’s wellness budget will increase in the near future, up from 30% from the group’s 2011 survey.

The findings showed the top two reasons for wellness programs are promoting a healthier and more productive workforce and reducing health care costs. Survey results also include employer thoughts on wellness program drivers, incentives, success metrics and, new this year, how changes in the workplace environment can drive healthy behaviors. Beena Thomas, vice president of OptumHealth Care Solutions, presented the outcomes in a Web seminar available to industry professionals. Responses were gathered during the last two weeks of December 2012 and included more than 500 employers.

“You’ll see employers migrating from rewarding engagement to perhaps outcomes over time,” Thomas said, interpreting findings about the future of incentives. “Employee participation [in wellness programs] is up overall driven by ‘one-and-done’ programs.” Thomas refers to the top three wellness offerings at respondent workplaces as easy for employees to complete in one action. These include flu shots (76%), health communications (68%) and discount programs (64%).

“Forty-seven percent of large companies are interested in environmental strategies to influence healthy decisions at work,” said Thomas during the presentation. “I find this fascinating.”

One example of environmental changes is the placement of foods in vending machines. Thomas said research shows that health foods sell better when placed at eye-level or to the right. “So have a conversation with your vending vendor,” she suggested as a simple solution. Another example Thomas provided is that of a company where the upper management chooses only to reimburse managers for catering when the food is deemed healthy.

The findings showed, consistent with years past, that the top barriers to employee participation in wellness are lack of time and interest.

OptumHealth has conducted this survey for four years. The company is owned by UnitedHealth Group.

By Gillian Roberts
March 27, 2013
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